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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2011 Feb;213(4):715-22. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-2024-3. Epub 2010 Oct 6.

Varenicline blocks nicotine intake in rats with extended access to nicotine self-administration.

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Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders, The Scripps Research Institute, 10550 North Torrey Pines Road, SP30-2400, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.



Much evidence indicates that individuals use tobacco primarily to experience the psychopharmacological properties of nicotine. Varenicline, a partial α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) agonist, is effective in reducing nicotine craving and relapse in smokers, suggesting that α4β2 nAChRs may play a key role in nicotine dependence. In rats, the effect of varenicline on nicotine intake has only been studied with limited access to the drug, a model of the positive reinforcing effect of nicotine. Varenicline has not been tested on the increase in motivation to take nicotine in nicotine-dependent rats.


The present study evaluated the effects of varenicline on nicotine intake in rats with extended access to nicotine self-administration (23 h/day), a condition leading to the development of nicotine dependence. We hypothesized that varenicline's effects on nicotine self-administration would be greater in rats with extended than limited access to the drug and after forced abstinence rather than during baseline self-administration.


Varenicline dose-dependently decreased nicotine self-administration in rats with limited (1 h/day) and extended (23 h/day) access. Despite an increased sensitivity to the motivational effects of abstinence on nicotine intake compared with limited-access rats, varenicline was equally effective in decreasing nicotine intake in dependent rats with extended access to nicotine.


These results suggest that α4β2 nAChRs are critical in mediating the positive reinforcing effects of nicotine but may not be a key element underlying the negative reinforcement process responsible for the increased nicotine intake after abstinence in dependent subjects.

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