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Neurochem Res. 2004 Sep;29(9):1779-92.

Nicotine-induced changes in neurotransmitter levels in brain areas associated with cognitive function.

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  • 1Nathan Kline Institute, Orangeburg, New York 10962, USA.


Nicotine, one of the most widespread drugs of abuse, has long been shown to impact areas of the brain involved in addiction and reward. Recent research, however, has begun to explore the positive effects that nicotine may have on learning and memory. The mechanisms by which nicotine interacts with areas of cognitive function are relatively unknown. Therefore, this paper is part of an ongoing study to evaluate regional effects of nicotine enhancement of cognitive function. Nicotine-induced changes in the levels of three neurotransmitters, dopamine (DA), serotonin (5-HT), norepinepherine (NE), their metabolites, homovanillic acid (HVA), dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC), 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA), and their precursor, L-DOPA, were evaluated in the ventral and dorsal hippocampus (VH and DH), prefrontal and medial temporal cortex (PFC and MTC), and the ventral tegmental area (VTA) using in vivo microdialysis in awake, freely moving, male Sprague-Dawley rats. The animals were treated with acute nicotine (0.5 mg/kg, s.c.) halfway through the 300-min experimental period. The reuptake blockers, desipramine (100 microM) and fluoxetine (30 microM), were given to increase the levels of NE and 5-HT so that they could be detected. Overall, a nicotine-induced DA increase was found in some areas, and this increase was potentiated by desipramine and fluoxetine. The two DA metabolites, HVA and DOPAC, increased in all the areas throughout the experiments, both with and without the inhibitors, indicating a rapid metabolism of the released DA. The increase in these metabolites was greater than the increase in DA. 5-HT was increased in the DH, MTC, and VTA in the presence of fluoxetine; its metabolite, 5-HIAA, was increased in the presence and absence of fluoxetine. Except in the VTA, NE levels increased to a similar extent with desipramine and fluoxetine. Overall, nicotine appeared to increase the release and turnover of these three neurotransmitters, which was indicated by significant increases in their metabolites. Furthermore, DA, and especially HVA and DOPAC, increased for the 150 min following nicotine administration; 5-HT and NE changes were shorter in duration. As gas chromatography experiments showed that nicotine levels in the brain decreased by 75% after 150 min, this may indicate that DA is more susceptible to lower levels of nicotine than 5-HT or NE. In conclusion, acute nicotine administration caused alterations in the levels of DA, 5-HT, and NE, and in the metabolism of DA and 5-HT, in brain areas that are involved in cognitive processes.

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