Role of dopamine in the behavioural actions of nicotine related to addiction

Eur J Pharmacol. 2000 Mar 30;393(1-3):295-314. doi: 10.1016/s0014-2999(00)00122-9.


Experimental impairment of dopamine function by 6-hydroxydopamine lesions or by dopamine receptor antagonists shows that dopamine is involved in nicotine's discriminative stimulus properties, nicotine-induced facilitation of intracranial self-stimulation, intravenous nicotine self-administration, nicotine conditioned place-preference and nicotine-induced disruption of latent inhibition. Therefore, nicotine depends on dopamine for those behavioural effects that are most relevant for its reinforcing properties and are likely to be the basis of the abuse liability of tobacco smoke. On the other hand, in vivo monitoring studies show that nicotine stimulates dopamine transmission in specific brain areas and in particular, in the shell of the nucleus accumbens and in areas of the extended amygdala. These effects of nicotine resemble those of a reward like food except that nicotine-induced release of dopamine does not undergo single-trial, long-lasting habituation. It is speculated that repeated non-habituating stimulation of dopamine release by nicotine in the nucleus accumbens shell abnormally facilitates associative stimulus-reward learning. Acute effects of nicotine on dopamine transmission undergo acute and chronic tolerance; with repeated, discontinuous exposure, sensitization of nicotine-induced stimulation of dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens core takes place while the response in the shell is reduced. It is speculated that these adaptive changes are the substrate of a switch from abnormal incentive responding controlled by consequences (action-outcome responding) into abnormal habit responding, triggered by conditional stimuli and automatically driven by action schemata relatively independent from nicotine reward. These two modalities might coexist, being utilized alternatively in relation to the availability of tobacco. Unavailability of tobacco disrupts the automatic, implicit modality of abnormal habit responding switching responding into the explicit, conscious modality of incentive drug-seeking and craving.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning Disabilities / chemically induced
  • Learning Disabilities / psychology
  • Locomotion / drug effects
  • Motivation
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Reward
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology*


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotine
  • Dopamine