The Laboratory of Neurochemistry, now jointly led by Drs. Paul Whiteaker and Ronald J. Lukas, focuses on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, which are critical to chemical signaling and electrical wiring throughout the brain and body. Nicotinic receptors normally respond to the natural chemical signaling agent acetylcholine, which is released from activated nerve (or other) cells. Nicotinic receptors also are targets of tobacco-based nicotine and are relevant to tobacco-related diseases and drug abuse.
They exist as a family of subtypes, each with unique properties and distributions, but all responding to nicotine and acetylcholine. These receptors are involved in mood and emotion, attention and cognition, autonomic homeostasis, and movements. Because they play such broad roles, it is not surprising that nicotinic receptor actions and deficits have been associated with a variety of neurological, psychiatric, and many other conditions affecting hundreds of millions of Americans (see Chart 1).