The nicotinic cholinergic system is one of the major modulatory neurotransmitter systems in the brain and has been implicated in learning, memory formation, and drug addiction. My laboratory provides an integrated environment that combines molecular biological and electrophysiological facilities for the study of molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying nicotinic cholinergic function. Our research focuses on nicotinic cholinergic control of synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus with the goal of identifying new targets for the development of new medications and therapies for cognitive impairment and nicotine abuse.
Our studies identified the two possible nicotinic cholinergic mechanisms influencing memory, one involving alpha2* nAChRs and the other involving GluN2B-containing NMDA receptors. We currently investigate whether these mechanisms are disrupted in animal models of Alzheimers’s disease or schizophrenia. Early postnatal nicotine exposure causes the long-lasting loss of alpha2* nAChR function and hippocampus-dependent memory impairments. We study the mechanisms underlying the long-lasting effects of nicotine exposure.