Despite intense scrutiny over the past 20 years, the reasons for the high addictive liability of nicotine and extreme rates of relapse in smokers have remained elusive. One factor that contributes to the development and maintenance of nicotine addiction is the ability of nicotine to produce long-lasting modifications of behavior, yet little is known about the mechanisms by which nicotine alters the underlying synaptic plasticity responsible for behavioral changes. This study is the first to explore how nicotine interacts with learning to alter gene transcription, which is a process necessary for long-term memory consolidation. Transcriptional upregulation of hippocampal jun-N terminal kinase 1 (JNK1) mRNA was found in mice that learned contextual fear conditioning (FC) in the presence of nicotine, whereas neither learning alone nor nicotine administration alone exerted an effect. Furthermore, the upregulation of JNK1 was absent in Β2 nicotinic receptor subunit knockout mice, which are mice that do not show enhanced learning by nicotine. Finally, hippocampal JNK activation was increased in mice that were administered nicotine before conditioning, and the inhibition of JNK during consolidation prevented the nicotine-induced enhancement of contextual FC. These data suggest that nicotine and learning interact to alter hippocampal JNK1 gene expression and related signaling processes, thus resulting in strengthened contextual memories.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Psychiatry and Mental health