• addiction;
  • dopamine;
  • electron microscopy;
  • intracellular;
  • NMRI mice;
  • synapse


Nicotine releases dopamine in the brain by activating neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Chronic nicotine treatment increases the number of nAChRs, which represents plasticity of the brain. Together these phenomena have been suggested to have a role in the development of nicotine addiction. In the brain nAChRs can be localized synaptically, extrasynaptically or intracellularly. The purpose of these studies was to clarify the effects of chronic nicotine treatment on the localization of β2 and α7 nAChR subunits in brain areas involved in nicotine addiction. Nicotine was administered orally in drinking water to male NMRI mice for 7 weeks. At the end of chronic nicotine treatment the localization of the nAChR subunits was studied in the dorsal striatum and in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) by using electron microscopy. In the brain areas studied β2 and α7 subunits were localized presynaptically and postsynaptically in axon endings and in dendrites. In both areas the majority of the β2 and α7 subunits were localized at extrasynaptic sites. In response to chronic nicotine treatment the β2 and α7 nAChR subunit labelling was increased at synaptic and extrasynaptic sites as well as intracellularly. This suggests that the trafficking of nAChR subunits is increased as a result of chronic nicotine treatment and nAChRs in all parts of neurons could have functional roles in the formation of nicotine addiction.