Nicotine in an animal model of attention

Eur J Pharmacol. 2000 Mar 30;393(1-3):147-54. doi: 10.1016/s0014-2999(99)00886-9.


Studies in smokers have suggested that at least part of the improved psychomotor performance produced by nicotine is the result of an effect on attention. Many animal experiments have assessed the effects of nicotine and its antagonists on diverse types of learning and memory but relatively few have looked at it in tasks designed to assess attention. In a five-choice serial reaction time task (5-CSRTT), rats with restricted access to food were presented with an array of five holes; illumination of a randomly selected hole signalled that a nose-poke into it would be reinforced by food presentation. Initially, signal length and the inter-trial interval (ITI) were varied and the procedure was demonstrated to satisfy some criteria for a vigilance task. The effects of nicotine on deficits in performance induced by varying signal length and ITI were assessed. Under appropriate conditions, small doses of nicotine increased the percentage of correct responses (accuracy), decreased omission errors and reaction time, and increased anticipatory responses. Subsequently, the effects of varying the ITI were examined more extensively in a slightly modified task. Here, nicotine produced small but robust, highly significant dose-related increases in accuracy, as well as decreases in omission errors and reaction times. Nicotine also increased accuracy when light stimuli were presented in an unpredictable manner. The nicotine antagonist mecamylamine produced a modest deficit in reaction time only. It is concluded that appropriate doses of nicotine can produce robust improvements in performance of normal rats in an attentional task. The effect cannot be attributed easily to changes in sensory or motor capability, learning or memory and may provide the measures needed to investigate the neuropharmacological and neuroanatomical bases of the elusive attentional effect of nicotine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / drug effects*
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Drug Interactions
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mecamylamine / pharmacology
  • Muscarinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Scopolamine / pharmacology


  • Muscarinic Antagonists
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotinic Antagonists
  • Mecamylamine
  • Nicotine
  • Scopolamine