Anna Lee, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology

Anna Lee

Contact Info

Office Phone 612-626-2859

Office Address:
NHH 3-136

Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology

PhD, University of Toronto


Anna Lee is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology. Her research focuses on the mechanisms of alcohol and nicotine co-addiction, and the role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in mediating alcohol and nicotine addiction. Recent interests also include the abuse liability of electronic cigarettes, and sex differences in nicotinic receptor function. 


Research Summary/Interests

The goal of my research is to elucidate the molecular basis of behavior. My lab studies the molecular mechanisms of addiction and the role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in affective disorders. We use genetic, molecular, pharmacological and behavioral tools in mouse models of drug addiction and depression.

We focus on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), which are widely expressed ligand-gated ion channels that modulate neurotransmission. nAChRs are found on many different types of neurons in the brain and are implicated in addiction, anxiety and depression. Our goal is to identify how regulation of nAChRs affects receptor function and behavior. Our main research focus is co-morbid alcohol and nicotine addiction. Alcohol and nicotine are two commonly used drugs, and addiction to both drugs is very prevalent. Alcohol and nicotine addiction have overlapping molecular mechanisms, and identifying these mechanisms will enable us to understand why these drugs are co-abused and to identify new molecular targets for treatment.

Currently, we are studying how protein kinase C epsilon (PKCe) regulates nAChRs at the transcript and protein level. PKCe regulates a6 and b3 nAChR subunit mRNA in the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area, two brain regions that play important roles in reward and addiction. PKCe also phosphorylates the a4b2 nAChR subtype, regulating receptor desensitization. We have found that mice with a genetic deletion of PKCe (Prkce -/- mice) have altered nAChR expression and consume less nicotine and alcohol compared with wild-type mice. To investigate the effect of manipulating nAChRs and regulatory proteins on alcohol and nicotine consumption, we use virally delivered inhibitory RNA sequences and modified receptor subunits in transgenic mice.

A second research focus is the role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in depression. Mice with genetic deletions of nAChR subunits show reduced depression-like behavior compared with wild-type littermates. Drugs that target nAChRs also produce an anti-depressant effect in mouse models. Currently, we are investigating how male and femalePrkce -/- mice respond to these nAChR drugs in tests of depression- and anxiety-like behavior.