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Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2003 Feb;74(3):683-90.

Nicotine-induced changes in cerebrocortical neuroactive steroids and plasma corticosterone concentrations in the rat.

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  • 1Department of Experimental Biology, Center of Excellence for Neurobiology of Drug Dependence, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy.


Nicotine, one of the most widely used psychotropic substances, is able to induce both anxiolytic and anxiogenic effects. The effect of this drug on the brain and plasma concentrations of neuroactive steroids was examined in the rat. Anxiolytic doses of nicotine (0.03-0.3 mg/kg) had no significant effect, whereas administration of anxiogenic doses (0.5 to 2 mg/kg) produced a dose- and time-dependent increase in the cerebrocortical concentrations of pregnenolone, progesterone, and allopregnanolone, with the greatest observed effects (+180%, +223%, and +124%, respectively) apparent at the dose of 2 mg/kg. In contrast, nicotine (1-2 mg/kg) decrease by 31% and 38%, respectively, the concentration of 3alpha,21-dihydroxy-5alpha-pregnan-20-one (allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone, or THDOC) in the cerebral cortex. Nicotine also increased the plasma concentrations of pregnenolone and progesterone, whereas failed to affect significantly those of allopregnanolone or THDOC. Nicotine induced a dose- and time-dependent increase in the plasma concentration of corticosterone, indicating that this drug activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. These results suggest that the changes in emotional behavior elicited by nicotine, similar to those induced by stressful stimuli or other anxiogenic drugs, are associated with an increase in neuroactive steroids content of the brain.

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