Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Pharmacology & Toxicology

First Advisor

M. Imad Damaj


Tobacco dependence is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Despite currently available smoking cessation therapies, there is a high rate of relapse in smoking among those attempting to quit. While the somatic signs of nicotine withdrawal (insomnia, increased appetite, weight gain) contribute to the continuation of smoking behavior, it has been hypothesized that the affective signs (depression, anxiety, craving, irritability) are greater motivators of relapse and continued tobacco use. There are few studies that assess the molecular and receptor-mediated mechanisms of nicotine withdrawal; therefore, our studies focus on identifying the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subtypes and post-receptor calcium-dependent mechanisms involved in nicotine withdrawal behaviors. Using precipitated, spontaneous, and conditioned place aversion (CPA) models, we measured physical and affective signs of nicotine withdrawal in mice. Our data show that major nAChR subtypes have differential roles in nicotine withdrawal. Additionally, our results suggest a behavioral relevance for L-type calcium channels in physical nicotine withdrawal signs, while calcium/calmodulin dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) appears to be involved in both physical and affective withdrawal behaviors. Additionally, we conducted biochemical studies in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) to examine the relationship between altered withdrawal behavioral responses and calcium-dependent molecular mechanisms that contribute to nicotine withdrawal behaviors. Our results suggest an important role for β2-containing nAChRs in nicotine-withdrawal induced decreases in CaMKII and synapsin I function in the NAc. Overall, our studies implicate a critical role for the α4α6β2* nAChR subtype in the behavioral and molecular aspects of nicotine withdrawal, thus aiding in the elucidation of nAChR subunits and mechanisms that contribute to nicotine withdrawal behaviors. The current studies are imperative for generating more successful smoking cessation therapies.


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Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

December 2008