Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the muscle, autonomic ganglia, and brain are targets for pharmacologically administered nicotine. Several of the subunits that combine to form neuronal nicotinic receptors have been deleted by knockout or mutated by knockin in mice using homologous recombination. We will review the biochemical, pharmacological, anatomical, physiological, and behavioral phenotypes of mice with genetically altered neuronal nAChR subunits. Clinically relevant mutations in nAChR genes will also be discussed. In addition, some of the signal transduction pathways activated through nAChRs will be described in order to delineate the longer-term changes that might result from persistent activation or inactivation of nAChRs. Genetically manipulated mice have greatly increased our understanding of the subunit composition and physiological properties of nAChRs in vivo. In addition, these mice have provided a model system to determine the molecular basis for many of the pharmacological actions of nicotine on neurotransmitter release and behavior. Genetic manipulations in mice have also elucidated the role of nAChR subunits in various disease states, and suggest several avenues for drug development.
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