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Nigel S Atkinson

Department of Neuroscience

Molecular mechanisms underlying alcoholism


Phone: 512-232-3404

Office Location
PAT 228

Postal Address
AUSTIN, TX 78712

My B.S. is in Microbiology from Texas A&M. For my Ph.D. I studied yeast RNA processing at Hershey Medical Center of the Penn State University. I post-doc’d at The University of Wisconsin-Madison where I studied Drosophila neurogenetics and cloned the first example of a BK type Ca2+-activated K+ channel gene. 

Research Summary:
Tolerance is an insidious response to an addictive drug. It causes one to consume more of the drug and speeds the user down the path of addiction. We study the molecular mechanisms underlying alcohol tolerance in the fruit fly Drosophila. We sedate flies with alcohol and use genetics and molecular biology to determine how the Drosophila nervous system adapts to this drug to produce long-term changes in behavior. We use the alcohol-induced patterns of histone modification to identify genes and DNA elements that are important for production of tolerance. We have shown that the BK-type Ca2+-activated K+ channel gene is induced by sedation and is required for production of tolerance. In the presence of the drug, increased expression from this gene counters the effects of the drug, but once the drug is cleared the increase in expression produces a withdrawal phenotype. We have mapped drug-responsive DNA elements that are important for gene induction. We are now taking this approach to a genomic level to identify additional genes and transcriptional responses.

2014, Rothenfluh, A, Troutwine, BR, Ghezzi, A, and Atkinson, NS. The Genetics of Alcohol Responses of Invertebrate Model Systems. In Neurobiology of Alcohol Dependence, ABC Noronha, C Cui, RA Harris, and JC Crabbe, eds, Elsevier,

2013, Ghezzi, A, Krishnan, HR, Lew, L, Pardo, FJr, Ong, DS, and Atkinson, NS. Alcohol-induced Histone Acetylation Reveals a Gene Network Involved in Alcohol Tolerance. PLoS Genetics 9:e1003986.

2013, Li, X, Ghezzi, A, Pohl, JB, Bohm, AY, Krishnan, HR, and Atkinson, NS. A DNA element regulates drug tolerance and withdrawal. PLoS One 8:e75549.

2013, Robinson, BG and Atkinson, NS. Is Alcoholism Learned? Insights from the Fruit Fly. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 21:1-6.

2013, Ghezzi, A, Al-Hasan, YM, Krishnan, HR, Wang, Y, and Atkinson, NS. Functional mapping of the neuronal substrates for drug tolerance in Drosophila. Behav Genet 43:227-240.

2013, Pohl, JB, Ghezzi, A, Lew, L, Robles, RB, Cormack, L, and Atkinson, NS. Circadian genes differentially affect tolerance to ethanol in Drosophila. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 37:1862-1871.

2012, Ghezzi, A, Krishnan, HR, and Atkinson, NS. Susceptibility to ethanol withdrawal seizures is produced by BK channel gene expression. Addiction Biology 19:332-337.

2012, Robinson, BG, Khurana, S, Kuperman, A, and Atkinson, NS. Neural Adaptation Leads to Cognitive Ethanol Dependence. Current Biology 22:2338-2341.

2012, Pohl, JB, Baldwin, BA, Dinh, BL, Rahman, P, Smerek, D, Prado, FJr, Sherazee, N, and Atkinson, NS. Ethanol Preference in Drosophila melanogaster is Driven by Its Caloric Value. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 36:1903-1912.

2012, Krishnan, HR, Al-Hasan, YM, Pohl, JB, Ghezzi, A, and Atkinson, NS. A role for dynamin in triggering ethanol tolerance. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 36:24-34.

2012, Robinson, BG, Khurana, S, Pohl, JB, Li, WK, Ghezzi, A, Cady, AM, Najjar, K, Hatch, MM, Shah, RR, Bhat, A, Hariri, O, Haroun, KB, Young, MC, Fife, K, Hooten, J, Tran, T, Goan, D, Desai, F, Husain, F, Godinez, RM, Sun, JC, Corpuz, J, Moran, J, Zhong, AC, Chen, WY, and Atkinson, NS. A low concentration of ethanol impairs learning but not motor and sensory behavior in Drosophila larvae. PLoS One 7:e37394.

2011, Al-Hasan, YM, Krishnan, HR, Ghezzi, A, Prado, FJr, Robles, RB, and Atkinson, NS. Tolerance to anesthesia depends on synaptic proteins. Behav Genet 41:734-745.

2010, Ghezzi A, Pohl JB, Wang Y and Atkinson NS, BK channels play a counter-adaptive role in drug tolerance and dependence, PNAS 107: 16360-16365 

2009, Wang Y, Ghezzi A, Yin JC, Atkinson NS, CREB regulation of BK channel gene expression underlies rapid drug tolerance, Genes Brain Behav 8: 369-376 

2007, Wang, Y, Krishnan, HR, Ghezzi, A, Yin, JCP, Atkinson, NS , Drug-induced epigenetic changes produce drug tolerance, PLoS-Biology 5: e265 

2006, Cowmeadow RB, Krishnan HR, Ghezzi A, Al'Hasan YM, Wang YZ, Atkinson NS, Ethanol tolerance caused by slowpoke induction in Drosophila., Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 30: 745-753

2005, Cowmeadow RB, Krishnan HR, Atkinson NS, The slowpoke gene is necessary for rapid ethanol tolerance in Drosophila., Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 29: 1777-0786

2004, Ghezzi A, Al-Hasan YM, Larios L, Bohm R, Atkinson N, slo K+ channel gene regulation mediates rapid drug tolerance., Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101: 17276-17281