Background: We have examined the effects of nicotine pretreatment on dopaminergic and behavioral responses to conditioned fear stress in the rat.
Methods: Rats were pretreated daily with saline or nicotine for 20 days then challenged with nicotine or saline on day 21. Animals were trained in a classical conditioned fear paradigm. Dopamine utilization in the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens shell and conditioned fear stress-induced immobility responses were assessed.
Results: Saline pretreated animals rapidly acquired the conditioned fear stress response as assessed by preferential activation of mesoprefrontal dopamine metabolism and tone-elicited immobility responses. Repeated, but not acute, nicotine pretreatment significantly reduced conditioned fear stress-induced dopamine metabolism in the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens shell. Repeated nicotine pretreatment did not modify the acquisition or expression of conditioned fear stress responses, however.
Conclusions: The dissimilar effects of repeated nicotine exposure on the cortical dopamine and behavioral responses to conditioned fear stress suggest that nicotine differs from other agents with anxiolytic activity that produce coordinated changes in conditioned fear stress-induced cortical dopaminergic and behavioral responses. Furthermore, compared with results of acute footshock stress, repeated nicotine pretreatment appears to have differential effects on physical versus psychological stressors. Results are discussed within the clinical context of stress-related psychopathology syndromes and comorbid nicotine dependence.