Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

March 2001


Published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 75 (2001), pp. 63-76. Copyright © 2001 by Academic Press. Used by permission.


If an environment is familiar, rats will interact more with a novel object than if the environment is unfamiliar. In two experiments we used this behavioral tendency to assess the effects of nicotine on environmental familiarization (i.e., an elevated platform). As expected, rats given 2 min of exposure to the platform on 2 consecutive days (familiarization phase) interacted more with a novel object in a subsequent test than rats that had not experienced the platform until the test day. During the familiarization phase acute pretreatment with nicotine (0.6 and 1.8 mg/kg, subcutaneous) 10 min before platform exposure interfered with familiarization processes, as measured by object interaction on the drug-free test day. Behavioral measures of activity (e.g., turning and midline crosses) eliminated an account based on nicotine-induced motor impairment. Furthermore, this effect of acute nicotine on familiarization was not due to nonspecific effects of nicotine. Controls that received equivalent nicotine exposure temporally separated from platform exposure interacted more with the novel object than similarly treated controls that were unfamiliar with the platform on the test day. Interestingly, rats treated once daily with 0.6 mg/kg nicotine for 14 days before the familiarization phase (chronic condition) did not show a decrease in environmental familiarity. This dissociation extends a growing literature finding that the behavioral and neurobiological effects of nicotine differ, in part, after acute and chronic exposure. Indeed, acute nicotine (0.2, 0.6, and 1.2 mg/kg) in the present report consistently decreased the amount of time spent with one paw on the edge of the platform; chronic nicotine did not affect this behavior.