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Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2002 Jul;72(4):865-72.

Nicotine-alcohol interactions and cognitive function in rats.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Nicotine and ethanol are the most widely abused drugs in the world. They are very often used and abused together. However, little is known about the functional interaction of nicotine and ethanol. The current project studied the interactive effects of nicotine and ethanol on working memory in the eight-arm radial maze. Adult female rats were trained on a radial arm maze for 18 sessions to reach asymptotic levels of choice accuracy. During the maintenance phase of radial arm maze testing, which indexed working memory function, the rats were injected with nicotine (0, 0.15, 0.3, 0.6, and 1.2 mg/kg sc, 20 min before testing) with and without ethanol pretreatment (0 or 1.5 g/kg, 16% v/v ip, 30 min before testing). All animals received the treatments in a counterbalanced order with at least 1 week between treatments. Higher doses of nicotine had a significant interaction with ethanol in terms of radial arm maze choice accuracy. Nicotine plus ethanol coadministration precipitated a significant choice accuracy impairment at doses that when given alone had no effect on performance. At the lower dose range of nicotine, ethanol coadministration eliminated the nicotine-induced memory improvement. No significant effects were seen with either nicotine or ethanol treatment or their interaction on response latency in the radial arm maze. The nicotine-ethanol interactive effects on memory were compared with the interaction of their well-characterized hypothermic effects. Nicotine and alcohol, when injected separately or in combination, induced hypothermia with no significant interactive effect. This study found that ethanol blocked low-dose nicotine-induced memory improvement and precipitated memory impairment with high-dose nicotine treatment. This interaction may be an important consideration for nicotine and ethanol coabuse and the possible therapeutic use of nicotinic drugs for memory dysfunction.

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