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Hum Psychopharmacol. 2004 Aug;19(6):409-19.

Nicotine improves antisaccade task performance without affecting prosaccades.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Texas-Houston Medical School, 6431 Fannin, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Although there is ample evidence for a cognitive-attentional benefit of the stimulant nicotine, the source of this benefit is not as well understood. One approach is to address what aspects of performance nicotine affects at a functional systems level. It is currently debated whether the benefits produced by nicotine are the effect of enhanced higher cognitive function or reflect an overall increase in general arousal. In order to address this question, the effects of nicotine on two simple eye movement tasks were studied: the saccade (S) and antisaccade (AS) tasks. Because the S and AS tasks utilize identical sensory stimuli (peripheral targets) and require identical motor responses (eye movements) but differ significantly in their cognitive demands, the use of these two tasks should enable a parsing of nicotine effects on cognitive versus sensory-motor processes. In this study, the S and AS tasks were performed by two experimental groups, task naïve subjects and highly practised subjects. For the first group, that of the task naïve subjects, nicotine gum administration resulted in a decrease in AS errors. For the second group, that of two experienced subjects tested repeatedly over a 3 week period, nicotine also produced a significant decrease in AS task errors, as well as resulting in a significant decrease in AS response times. Neither task naïve nor experienced subjects showed any effects of nicotine on the S task. Examining the effects of nicotine on highly controlled and constrained tasks such as the S and AS task may provide another level of insight into the mechanisms underlying the beneficial cognitive effects of nicotine.

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