Self-administration of cotinine in wistar rats: Comparisons to nicotine

Zheng Ming Ding, Yong Gao, Alena M. Sentir, Xiaoying Tan

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5 Scopus citations


Nicotine is the major addictive component in tobacco. Cotinine is the major metabolite of nicotine and a weak agonist for nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Nicotine supports self-administration in rodents. However, it remains undetermined whether cotinine can be self-administered. This study aimed to characterize cotinine self-administration in rats, to compare effects of cotinine to those of nicotine, and to determine potential involvement of nAChRs in cotinine's effects. Adult Wistar rats were trained to self-administer cotinine or nicotine (0.0075, 0.015, 0.03, or 0.06 mg/kg per infusion) under fixed-ratio (FR) and progressive-ratio (PR) schedules. Blood nicotine and cotinine levels were determined after the last FR session. Effects of mecamylamine, a nonselective nAChR antagonist, and varenicline, a partial agonist for a4b2* nAChRs, on cotinine and nicotine self-administration were determined. Rats readily acquired cotinine self-administration, responded more on active lever, and increased motivation to self-administer cotinine when the reinforcement requirement increased. Blood cotinine levels ranged from 77 to 792 ng/ml. Nicotine induced more infusions at lower doses during FR schedules and greater breakpoints at higher doses during the PR schedule than cotinine. There was no difference in cotinine self-administration between male and female rats. Mecamylamine and varenicline attenuated nicotine but not cotinine self-administration. These results indicate that cotinine was self-administered by rats. These effects of cotinine were less robust than nicotine and exhibited no sex difference. nAChRs appeared to be differentially involved in self-administration of nicotine and cotinine. These results suggest cotinine may play a role in the development of nicotine use and misuse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)338-347
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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