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Multidimensional Intersection of Nicotine, Gene Expression, and Behavior


The cholinergic system plays a crucial role in nervous system function with important effects on developmental processes, cognition, attention, motivation, reward, learning, and memory. Nicotine, the reinforcing component of tobacco and e-cigarettes, directly acts on the cholinergic system by targeting nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the brain. Activation of nAChRs leads to a multitude of immediate and long-lasting effects in specific cellular populations, thereby affecting the addictive properties of the drug. In addition to the direct actions of nicotine in binding to and opening nAChRs, the subsequent activation of circuits and downstream signaling cascades leads to a wide range of changes in gene expression, which can subsequently alter further behavioral expression. In this review, we provide an overview of the actions of nicotine that lead to changes in gene expression and further highlight evidence supporting how these changes can often be bidirectional, thereby inducing subsequent changes in behaviors associated with further drug intake.

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