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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2006 Mar;184(3-4):391-400. Epub 2005 Oct 25.

Dissociating the primary reinforcing and reinforcement-enhancing effects of nicotine using a rat self-administration paradigm with concurrently available drug and environmental reinforcers.

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Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, 3137 Sennott Square, 210 S. Bouquet St., Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.



Nicotine has two effects on reinforcement in traditional self-administration paradigms. It serves as a primary reinforcer by increasing the probability of behaviors that result in nicotine delivery. However, nicotine also potently enhances behaviors that result in the delivery of nonpharmacological reinforcers.


The present study sought to dissociate these two effects of nicotine on reinforcement.


For one group of rats (2 lever), a nonpharmacological reinforcer [visual stimulus (VS)] was available for pressing one lever. Nicotine infusions were available for pressing a different lever. A second group (NIC + VS) received more traditional self-administration training; both the VS and nicotine were delivered for pressing a single active lever. Control groups received either nicotine infusions (NIC only) or VS presentations (VS only) for pressing the active lever.


Nicotine alone was a weak reinforcer; the VS alone was slightly more reinforcing than nicotine. When these two reinforcers were combined (NIC + VS), response rates were synergistically increased. For the 2-lever group, responding on the nicotine lever was weak, matching the response rates of rats receiving nicotine alone. However, responding on the VS lever was potently enhanced in this group; equaling the response rates for rats receiving both reinforcers for making a single response (NIC + VS).


These data indicate that the reinforcement-enhancing effects of nicotine are very potent even when only moderate quantities of the drug are self-administered. Moreover, they provide the first demonstration that the reinforcement-enhancing and primary reinforcing effects of nicotine can be dissociated behaviorally.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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