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Jerry Stitzel, PhD



Molecular Neurogenetics


CU Boulder Institute for Behavioral Genetics


Completed college introductory courses in biology and general chemistry

Positions Available: 2


Project objective: Understand the role of nicotinic receptors in nicotine dependence and lung cancer

Training objective:

Provide students with hands-on experience in techniques in molecular genetics, cell biology, biochemistry and behavior as they pertain to brain and/or lung nicotine receptors


Nicotinic receptors are expressed in the brain and lung (and other tissues) and may play a dual role in lung cancer. Nicotinic receptors in the brain are essential for the rewarding effect of nicotine and thus play a critical role in the establishment and maintenance of the use of tobacco products. Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and is responsible for nearly 90% of all lung cancer deaths. Thus, reducing smoking in the US would have a major impact on cancer deaths, particularly those due to lung cancer.

A major focus of the research in the laboratory is to understand the role of specific nicotinic receptor subtypes expressed in the brain in the establishment and maintenance of nicotine dependence. The goal of this research is to develop more effective smoking cessation strategies though a better understanding of the neurobiology of nicotine dependence.

The function of nicotinic receptors in lung tissue is poorly understood. However, genetic and cell biology data suggest that nicotinic receptors in the lung may contribute to the development of lung cancer. Consequently, nicotinic receptors might contribute to the development of lung cancer not only because of their role in establishing and maintaining smoking behavior but also through a direct function in lung cells. A second area of interest in the laboratory is in understanding the contribution of nicotinic receptors in the lung to the etiology of lung cancer.

Students will choose whether to work on the brain or lung nicotinic receptor project.

The brain nicotinic receptor project will involve using mice that have been genetically modified at one or more nicotinic receptors, including a human genetic variant that has been implicated in both nicotine dependence and lung cancer risk in humans. The mice will be tested for behaviors related to nicotine dependence and also studied using biochemical and molecular techniques to assess the function and expression of the receptors.

The lung nicotinic receptor project will study the effects of nicotine on human lung cancer cell lines. This project will involve the use of cell culture, biochemical and molecular biological techniques.