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Open Access Research article

Chronic nicotine pretreatment is sufficient to upregulate α4* nicotinic receptors and increase oral nicotine self-administration in mice

Anthony Renda and Raad Nashmi*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, University of Victoria, PO Box 3020, Station CSC, Victoria, BC V8W 3 N5, Canada

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BMC Neuroscience 2014, 15:89  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-15-89

Published: 19 July 2014



Understanding the underlying causes of nicotine addiction will require a multidisciplinary approach examining the key molecular, cellular and neuronal circuit functional changes that drive escalating levels of nicotine self-administration. In this study, we examined whether mice pretreated with chronic nicotine, at a dosing regimen that results in maximal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) upregulation, would display evidence of nicotine-dependent behaviour during nicotine self-administration.


We investigated oral self-administration of nicotine using a two-bottle choice paradigm in which one bottle contained the vehicle (saccharine-sweetened water), while the other contained nicotine (200 μg/ml) in vehicle. Knock-in mice with YFP-tagged α4 nAChR subunits (α4YFP) were implanted with osmotic pumps delivering either nicotine (2 mg/kg/hr) or saline for 10 days. After 10 days of pretreatment, mice were exposed to the nicotine self-administration paradigm, consisting of four days of choice followed by three days of nicotine abstinence repeated for five weeks. Mice pre-exposed to nicotine had upregulated α4YFP nAChR subunits in the hippocampal medial perforant path and on ventral tegmental area GABAergic neurons as compared to chronic saline mice. Compared to control saline-pretreated mice, in a two bottle-choice experiment, nicotine-primed mice ingested a significantly larger daily dose of nicotine and also exhibited post-abstinence binge drinking of nicotine.


Chronic forced pre-exposure of nicotine is sufficient to induce elevated oral nicotine intake and supports the postulate that nAChR upregulation may be a key factor influencing nicotine self-administration.