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Neuropharmacology. 2013 Jan;64:443-51. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2012.06.019. Epub 2012 Jun 28.

Nicotine facilitates memory consolidation in perceptual learning.

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1
Institut für Psychologie, Universität Regensburg, Universitätsstr. 31, 93053 Regensburg, Germany. anton.beer@psychologie.uni-regensburg.de

Abstract

Perceptual learning is a special type of non-declarative learning that involves experience-dependent plasticity in sensory cortices. The cholinergic system is known to modulate declarative learning. In particular, reduced levels or efficacy of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine were found to facilitate declarative memory consolidation. However, little is known about the role of the cholinergic system in memory consolidation of non-declarative learning. Here we compared two groups of non-smoking men who learned a visual texture discrimination task (TDT). One group received chewing tobacco containing nicotine for 1 h directly following the TDT training. The other group received a similar tasting control substance without nicotine. Electroencephalographic recordings during substance consumption showed reduced alpha activity and P300 latencies in the nicotine group compared to the control group. When re-tested on the TDT the following day, both groups responded more accurately and more rapidly than during training. These improvements were specific to the retinal location and orientation of the texture elements of the TDT suggesting that learning involved early visual cortex. A group comparison showed that learning effects were more pronounced in the nicotine group than in the control group. These findings suggest that oral consumption of nicotine enhances the efficacy of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Our findings further suggest that enhanced efficacy of the cholinergic system facilitates memory consolidation in perceptual learning (and possibly other types of non-declarative learning). In that regard acetylcholine seems to affect consolidation processes in perceptual learning in a different manner than in declarative learning. Alternatively, our findings might reflect dose-dependent cholinergic modulation of memory consolidation. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'Cognitive Enhancers'.

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