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Nicotine leads to both activation and desensitization (inactivation) of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). This study tested the hypothesis that nicotine and a selective antagonist of β2*nAChRs would have similar effects on affective behavior. Adult C57BL/6J male mice were tested in a conditioned emotional response (CER) assay which evaluates the ability of an aversive stimulus to inhibit goal-directed behavior. Mice lever-pressed for a saccharin reinforcer according to a variable schedule of reinforcement during sessions in which two presentations of a compound light/tone conditioned stimulus (CS) co-terminated with a 0.1 or 0.3 mA, 0.5 s footshock unconditioned stimulus (US). During testing in the absence of the US, mice received doses of i.p. nicotine (0, 0.0032, 0.01, 0.032, 0.1 mg/kg) or a selective β2 subunit containing nAChR (β2*nAChR) antagonist dihydro-beta-erythroidine (0, 0.1, 0.3, 1.0, 3.0 mg/kg DHβE). There was a dose-dependent effect of nicotine revealing that only low doses (0.01, 0.032 mg/kg) increased CER suppression ratios (SR) in these mice. DHβE also dose-dependently increased SR at the 3 mg/kg dose. In ethological measures of fear−/anxiety-like behavior, these doses of nicotine and DHβE significantly reduced digging behavior in a marble burying task and 0.3 mg/kg DHβE promoted open-arm activity in the elevated plus maze. Doses of nicotine and DHβE that altered affective behavior had no effect on locomotor activity. Similar to previous reports with anxiolytic drugs, low dose nicotine and DHβE reversed SR in a CER assay, decreased digging in a marble burying assay and increased open arm activity in the elevated plus maze. This study provides evidence that inactivation of β2*nAChRs reduces fear-like and anxiety-like behavior in rodents and suggests that smokers may be motivated to smoke in part to desensitize their β2*nAChRs. These data further identify β2*nAChR antagonism as a potential therapeutic strategy for relief of negative affect and anxiety.
© 2012 Brunzell, Anderson. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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VCU Pharmacology and Toxicology Publications