23 Scopus citations


Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) regulate the rewarding actions of nicotine contained in tobacco that establish and maintain the smoking habit. nAChRs also regulate the aversive properties of nicotine, sensitivity to which decreases tobacco use and protects against tobacco use disorder. These opposing behavioral actions of nicotine reflect nAChR expression in brain reward and aversion circuits. nAChRs containing α4 and β2 subunits are responsible for the high-affinity nicotine binding sites in the brain and are densely expressed by reward-relevant neurons, most notably dopaminergic, GABAergic, and glutamatergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area. High-affinity nAChRs can incorporate additional subunits, including β3, α6, or α5 subunits, with the resulting nAChR subtypes playing discrete and dissociable roles in the stimulatory actions of nicotine on brain dopamine transmission. nAChRs in brain dopamine circuits also participate in aversive reactions to nicotine and the negative affective state experienced during nicotine withdrawal. nAChRs containing α3 and β4 subunits are responsible for the low-affinity nicotine binding sites in the brain and are enriched in brain sites involved in aversion, including the medial habenula, interpeduncular nucleus, and nucleus of the solitary tract, brain sites in which α5 nAChR subunits are also expressed. These aversion-related brain sites regulate nicotine avoidance behaviors, and genetic variation that modifies the function of nAChRs in these sites increases vulnerability to tobacco dependence and smoking-related diseases. Here, we review the molecular, cellular, and circuit-level mechanisms through which nicotine elicits reward and aversion and the adaptations in these processes that drive the development of nicotine dependence. Significance Statement Tobacco use disorder in the form of habitual cigarette smoking or regular use of other tobacco-related products is a major cause of death and disease worldwide. This article reviews the actions of nicotine in the brain that contribute to tobacco use disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-310
Number of pages40
JournalPharmacological Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


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