Date of this Version
Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2013 ; 38: 72–78.
This study was designed to determine whether deficits in adult serial pattern learning caused by adolescent nicotine exposure persist as impairments in asymptotic performance, whether adolescent nicotine exposure differentially retards learning about pattern elements that are inconsistent with “perfect” pattern structure, and whether there are sex differences in rats’ response to adolescent nicotine exposure as assessed by a serial multiple choice task. The current study replicated the results of our initial report (Fountain, Rowan, Kelley, Willey, & Nolley, 2008) using this task by showing that adolescent nicotine exposure (1.0 mg/kg/day nicotine for 35 days) produced a specific cognitive impairment in male rats that persisted into adulthood at least a month after adolescent nicotine exposure ended. In addition, sex differences were observed even in controls, with additional evidence that adolescent nicotine exposure significantly impaired learning relative to same-sex controls for chunk boundary elements in males and for violation elements in females. All nicotine-induced impairments were overcome by additional training so that groups did not differ at asymptote. An examination of the types of errors rats made indicated that adolescent nicotine exposure slowed learning without affecting rats’ cognitive strategy in the task. This data pattern suggests that exposure to nicotine in adolescence may have impaired different aspects of adult stimulus-response discrimination learning processes in males and females, but left abstract rule learning processes relatively spared in both sexes. These effects converge with other findings in the field and reinforce the concern that adolescent nicotine exposure poses an important threat to cognitive capacity in adulthood.