Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Pharmacology & Toxicology

First Advisor

Michael F. Miles


It has been reported that an individual’s initial level of response to a drug might be predictive of his or her future risk of becoming dependent, thus basal gene expression profiles underlying those drug responses may be informative for both predicting addiction susceptibility and determining targets for intervention. This dissertation research aims to elucidate genetic risk factors underlying acute alcohol and nicotine dependence phenotypes using mouse genetic models of addiction. Phenotyping, brain region-specific mRNA expression profiling, and genetic mapping of a recombinant inbred panel of over 25 mouse strains were performed in order to identify quantitative trait loci (QTL) harboring candidate genes that may modulate these phenotypes. Previous BXD (B6 x D2) behavioral studies performed in our laboratory identified an ethanol-induced anxiolysis-like QTL (Etanq1) in the light dark box (LDB). We hypothesized that genetic variation within Nin (a gene within the Etanq1 support interval involved in microtubule-anchoring) may modulate anxiolytic-like responses to acute ethanol in the LDB as well as other preclinical models of anxiety, the elevated plus maze (EPM), and marble burying (MB) task. Molecular studies have allowed us to confirm cis regulation of Nin transcript levels in the NAc. To elucidate potential mechanisms mediating Etanq1, the pharmacological tools, diazepam and HZ166 (a benzodiazepine derivative) were utilized to interrogate whether GABAA receptor activation modulates ethanol’s anxiety-like behaviors in the LDB. We show that the LDB phenotype, percent time spent (PTS) in the light following a brief restraint stress, is not being modulated through direct activation of GABAA α2/α3 receptor subunits. To genetically dissect Etanq1 as well as parse the ethanol anxiolytic-like phenotype, we have assayed 8 inbred strains, selected based on genotypes at Nin, in various preclinical models of anxiety. Principal components analysis of these behavioral data suggests that the gene(s) modulating the ethanol anxiolytic-like component in the LDB do not overlap with similar phenotypes in the elevated plus maze (EPM), nor the MB phenotype. Furthermore, site-specific delivery of an sh-Nin lentivirus into the NAc of D2 mice revealed that Nin may modulate one LDB endophenotype, latency to enter the light side of the LDB, which loaded as a part of the “anxiolysis” principal component. These data strongly imply that basal neuronal Nin expression in the NAc is important for acute ethanol anxiolytic-like behavior, perhaps through a novel mechanism involving synaptic remodeling. In separate behavioral QTL mapping studies, we hypothesized that genetic variation regulating expression of Chrna7 modulates the reward-like phenotype, conditioned place preference (CPP), for nicotine. We provide evidence for genetic regulation of Chrna7 across the BXD panel of mice and through pharmacological and genetic behavioral studies, confirm Chrna7 as a quantitative trait gene modulating CPP for nicotine in mice. Microarrays, followed by network analyses, allowed us to identify a genetically co-regulated network within the nucleus accumbens (NAc), differentially expressed in mice null for Chrna7, which was similarly correlated in the BXD panel of mice. Our network and molecular analyses suggest a putative role for Chrna7 in regulating insulin signaling in the NAc, which together, may contribute to the enhanced sensitivity to nicotine observed in strains of mice that lack or have low mRNA levels of Chrna7 in the NAc. Overall, this research has elucidated and confirmed new genetic risk factors underlying alcohol and nicotine dependence phenotypes and has enabled a better understanding of the neurogenomic bases of alcohol and nicotine addiction. Future studies that further investigate the signaling pathways and/or gene interactions involving Nin and Chrna7 may lead the field to new candidates for pharmacotherapies that may be tailored for use in individuals with susceptible genotypes. Supported by NIAAA grants P20AA017828 and R01AA020634 to MFM, NIDA T32DA007027 to WLD, and NIDA R01DA032246 to MFM and MID.


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VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

August 2013