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Neuropharmacology. 2013 Jan;64:479-88. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2012.08.004. Epub 2012 Aug 23.

Effects of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonists on cognition in rhesus monkeys with a chronic cocaine self-administration history.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC 27157, USA.


Cocaine use is associated with impaired cognitive function, which may negatively impact treatment outcomes. One pharmacological strategy to improve cognition involves nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) stimulation. However, the effects of chronic cocaine exposure on nAChR distribution and function have not been characterized. Thus, one goal of this study was to examine nAChR availability in rhesus monkeys with an extensive cocaine self-administration history (n = 4; ~6 years, mean intake, 1463 mg/kg) compared to age-matched cocaine-naive control monkeys (n = 5). Using [¹¹C]-nicotine and positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, cocaine-experienced monkeys showed significantly higher receptor availability in the hippocampus compared to cocaine-naive monkeys. A second goal was to examine the effects of nAChR agonists on multiple domains of cognitive performance in these same monkeys. For these studies, working memory was assessed using a delayed match-to-sample (DMS) task, associative learning and behavioral flexibility using stimulus discrimination and reversal learning tasks. When administered acutely, the nonselective high-efficacy agonist nicotine, the low-efficacy α4β2* subtype-selective agonist varenicline and the high-efficacy α7 subtype-selective agonist, PNU-282987 significantly improved DMS performance in both cocaine-naive and cocaine-experienced monkeys. Individual doses of nicotine and varenicline that engendered maximum cognitive enhancing effects on working memory did not affect discrimination or reversal learning, while PNU-282987 disrupted reversal learning in the cocaine-naive monkeys. These findings indicate that a cocaine self-administration history influenced nAChR distribution and the effects of nAChR agonists on cognitive performance, including a reduced sensitivity to the disrupting effects on reversal learning. The cognitive enhancing effects of nAChR agonists may be beneficial in combination with behavioral treatments for cocaine addiction. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'Cognitive Enhancers'.

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