Date of this Version
In rats, the pharmacological (interoceptive) effects of nicotine can serve as a signal (conditional stimulus) in a Pavlovian (classical) conditioning task. In this task, nicotine administration (0.4 mg base/kg, subcutaneous) is typically paired with intermittent access to a liquid sucrose unconditional stimulus; sucrose is withheld on saline sessions. An increase in sucrose receptacle entries (goal tracking) on nicotine sessions indicates conditioning. Given our limited understanding of the functional relationships controlling conditioned responding to a nicotine conditional stimulus, the present research examined nicotine's sensitivity to several manipulations shown to affect the conditioned responding in more widely studied Pavlovian conditioning tasks that use exteroceptive conditional stimuli: number of nicotine conditional stimulus-sucrose unconditional stimulus pairings per session (0, 3, 9, 18, or 36) and the impact of sucrose deliveries in saline sessions. Differential goal tracking developed in fewer sessions and asymptotic conditioned responding magnitude was greater with more nicotine-sucrose pairings. Further, goal tracking was more resistant to extinction (unconditional stimulus withheld) with more conditional-unconditional stimulus pairings during the acquisition phase. The discrimination was not acquired when sucrose presentations (9 or 18) also occurred during saline sessions. Furthermore, expression of the discrimination was disrupted when sucrose was presented in saline sessions; this disruption resulted from goal tracking in saline sessions. These results are consistent with the notion that nicotine-evoked goal tracking results from interoceptive conditioning processes.