Nicotine addiction is associated with the development of tolerance and the emergence of withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of chronic nicotine administration. Changes in cognition, including deficits in learning, are one of the most common withdrawal symptoms reported by smokers. However, the neural substrates of tolerance to the effects of nicotine on learning and the substrates of withdrawal deficits in learning are unknown, and in fact it is unclear whether a common mechanism is involved in both. The present study tested the hypothesis that tolerance and withdrawal are separate processes and that nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) upregulation underlies changes in learning associated with withdrawal but not tolerance. C57BL/6 male mice were administered a dose of nicotine (3, 6.3, 12, or 24 mg/kg/d) chronically for varying days and tested for the onset of tolerance to the effects of nicotine on learning. Follow up experiments examined the number of days of chronic nicotine treatment required to produce withdrawal deficits in learning and a significant increase in [3H] epibatidine binding in the hippocampus indicative of receptor upregulation. The results indicate that tolerance onset was influenced by dose of chronic nicotine, that tolerance occurred before withdrawal deficits in learning emerged, and that nAChR upregulation in the dorsal hippocampus was associated with withdrawal but not tolerance. This suggests that for the effects of nicotine on learning, tolerance and withdrawal involve different substrates. These findings are discussed in terms of implications for development of therapeutics that target symptoms of nicotine addiction and for theories of addiction.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Clinical Neurology
- Developmental Biology