• DARPP-32;
  • dopamine;
  • glutamate;
  • nicotinic acetylcholine receptors;
  • phosphorylation;
  • striatum


Nicotine, acting on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) expressed at pre-synaptic dopaminergic terminals, has been shown to stimulate the release of dopamine in the neostriatum. However, the molecular consequences of pre-synaptic nAChR activation in post-synaptic neostriatal neurons are not clearly understood. Here, we investigated the effect of nAChR activation on dopaminergic signaling in medium spiny neurons by measuring phosphorylated DARPP-32 (dopamine- and cAMP-regulated phosphoprotein of Mr 32 kDa) at Thr34 (the PKA-site) in mouse neostriatal slices. Nicotine produced dose-dependent responses, with a low concentration (1 µm) causing a sustained decrease in DARPP-32 Thr34 phosphorylation and a high concentration (100 µm) causing a transient increase in DARPP-32 Thr34 phosphorylation. Depending on the concentration of nicotine, either dopamine D2 or D1 receptor signaling was predominantly activated. Nicotine at a low concentration (1 µm) activated dopamine D2 receptor signaling in striatopallidal/indirect pathway neurons, likely by activating α4β2* nAChRs at dopaminergic terminals. Nicotine at a high concentration (100 µm) activated dopamine D1 receptor signaling in striatonigral/direct pathway neurons, likely by activating (i) α4β2* nAChRs at dopaminergic terminals and (ii) α7 nAChRs at glutamatergic terminals, which, by stimulating the release of glutamate, activated NMDA/AMPA receptors at dopaminergic terminals. The differential effects of low and high nicotine concentrations on D2- and D1-dependent signaling pathways in striatal neurons may contribute to dose-dependent actions of this drug of abuse.