Learned safety, a learning process in which a cue becomes associated with the absence of threat, is disrupted in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A bi-directional relationship exists between smoking and PTSD and one potential explanation is that nicotine-associated changes in cognition facilitate PTSD emotional dysregulation by disrupting safety associations. Therefore, we investigated whether nicotine would disrupt learned safety by enhancing fear associated with a safety cue. In the present study, C57BL/6 mice were administered acute or chronic nicotine and trained over three days in a differential backward trace conditioning paradigm consisting of five trials of a forward conditioned stimulus (CS)+ (Light) co-terminating with a footshock unconditioned stimulus followed by a backward CS- (Tone) presented 20 s after cessation of the unconditioned stimulus. Summation testing found that acute nicotine disrupted learned safety, but chronic nicotine had no effect. Another group of animals administered acute nicotine showed fear when presented with the backward CS (Light) alone, indicating the formation of a maladaptive fear association with the backward CS. Finally, we investigated the brain regions involved by administering nicotine directly into the dorsal hippocampus, ventral hippocampus, and prelimbic cortex. Infusion of nicotine into the dorsal hippocampus disrupted safety learning.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Pharmacology (medical)