The importance of acquisition learning on nicotine and varenicline drug substitution in a drug-discriminated goal-tracking task

Brady M. Thompson, Scott T. Barrett, Y. Wendy Huynh, David A. Kwan, Jennifer E. Murray, Rick A. Bevins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Nicotine and varenicline (Chantix®; the leading non-nicotine cessation pharmacotherapy) can come to control appetitive behaviors such as goal-tracking. We tested rats (N = 48) in a drug-discriminated goal-tracking (DGT) task where each rat received daily subcutaneous injections of either nicotine (0.4 mg/kg) or saline (0.9% [w/v]) interspersed across the acquisition phase (Phase 1). On saline days, sucrose was intermittently available. On nicotine days, sucrose was withheld. All rats acquired the discrimination with increased goal-tracking rates on saline days relative to nicotine days. Following acquisition, rats were separated into four groups to assess drug-substitution and discrimination reversal in Phase 2. The first group maintained the stimulus-reinforcer relation from acquisition (NIC-). The reversal group was now given access to sucrose on nicotine days (NIC+). The substitution group replaced nicotine with varenicline (1 mg/kg) while maintaining the acquisition stimulus-reinforcer relation (VAR-). The substitution and reversal group had nicotine replaced by varenicline and the stimulus-reinforcer relation reversed (VAR+). Rats in all groups learned or maintained their Phase 1 discriminations. For Phase 2, the reversal groups (+ conditions) acquired their discriminations within 10 sessions. The VAR- group displayed a pattern of disrupted discrimination at the outset of Phase 2 but was reestablished after continued training. In substitution testing, VAR groups received nicotine and NIC groups received varenicline. The NIC- and VAR- groups displayed full substitution of the test stimulus whereas the NIC+ and VAR+ groups displayed partial substitution of the test stimulus. Rats underwent nicotine extinction in Phase 3. Initial responding for each group mimicked Phase 2 training (i.e., higher responding by the reversal groups). All rats maintained similarly low levels of responding after six sessions. In conclusion, initial learning history with nicotine (i.e., + or −) influenced drug-stimulus substitution and the rate at which new learning (e.g., reversal) occurs with the varenicline and nicotine interoceptive stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number173045
JournalPharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior
Volume199
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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