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Genes affecting nicotine response in C. elegans

Institution: University of California, San Diego
Investigator(s): William Schafer, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2006 (Cycle 15) Grant #: 15RT-0216 Award: $100,000
Subject Area: Nicotine Dependence
Award Type: Research Project Awards

Initial Award Abstract
Addiction to nicotine prevents tobacco users from quitting- and is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death in America, contributing to greater than thirty percent of all cancer deaths. We have chosen to use the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) as a model to investigate molecular mechanisms underlying nicotine sensitivity and tolerance. C. elegans offers a number of advantages for these studies: it has a simple nervous system comprised of 302 neurons, and is extremely accessible to molecular and classical genetic approaches. There is no other model system which has the same complement of tools, which allow the researcher to move from gene to nervous system to behavior so rapidly; yet many of the basic mechanisms of nicotine response and tolerance are likely to be shared between nematodes and humans. It is reasonable to suppose that by understanding how nicotine exposure changes the functioning of the nervous system, and how these changes contribute to the development of addiction, therapeutic interventions can be developed which will aid in tobacco cessation. These studies should ultimately result in fewer deaths from tobacco-related cancers.