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Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Pharmacology & Toxicology

First Advisor



Nicotine is one of the most commonly used drugs among adolescent populations. Given the fact that adolescence is a unique developmental stage, during which nicotine has long-term effects on future drug-taking behavior, it is essential to understand how early exposure to nicotine during adolescence may affect the abuse liability of other drugs. We hypothesize that repeated exposure to low doses of nicotine in adolescence induce age-specific enhancement of the rewarding effects of several drugs of abuse in the conditioned place preference (CPP) test. Furthermore, we predict that these changes in behavioral responses are mediated by nicotine-induced brain region-specific increases in the expression of ΔFosB, a member of the Fos family of transcription factors, through activation of neuronal nicotinic receptors. We used mice as a model system to investigate the effects of adolescent nicotine exposure on responses to cocaine, amphetamine, and morphine in adulthood. We found that exposure to nicotine during the early phase of adolescence (postnatal day 28) enhanced cocaine CPP, acute locomotor activity, and locomotor sensitization in adulthood. Our data demonstrate that nicotine priming effects on cocaine are affected by the dose, duration, method of administration, age of exposure, and mouse strain. These data strongly suggest that nicotine intake during adolescence may cross-sensitize the brain to the rewarding effects of cocaine. A follow-up study was undertaken to determine if this enhancement applies to other drugs of abuse. The repeated exposure to 0.5 mg/kg nicotine (subcutaneous) during early adolescence resulted in significant enhancement of amphetamine and morphine preference in a CPP test, but had no effect on the somatic signs of morphine withdrawal. In addition, we investigated the possible neuronal mechanisms underlining enhancements to behavioral responses using both in vivo and in vitro techniques. Our results showed that nicotinic antagonists, with varying subtype selectivity, administered during adolescence prior to nicotine exposure diminished cocaine enhancement in CPP. This suggests that the enhancement of cocaine behavioral responses is mediated by neuronal nicotine receptors (mainly β2* and α7). Finally, studies of ∆FosB revealed significant effects of age and nicotine pre-treatment in nucleus accumbens (NAc), but not in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Indeed, nicotine pre-treatment was able to significantly increase ∆FosB levels in NAc of early adolescent mice compared to adult mice. This accumulation of ∆FosB persisted for several weeks. Further studies are needed to fully examine the mechanisms of action underlying the observed changes in cocaine rewards.


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