Peculiar vulnerability to nicotine oral self-administration in mice during early adolescence

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2002 Aug;27(2):212-24. doi: 10.1016/S0893-133X(02)00295-6.


A "gateway" function toward substance abuse has been suggested for early tobacco smoking. Nicotine actually represents an easily available drug for human adolescents, who are very likely to use a number of different psychoactive agents. Surprisingly, the psychobiological factors involved in this age-related willingness have been poorly investigated. In Experiment 1, nicotine consumption was studied in outbred CD-1 mice during Early (postnatal day (pnd) 24 to 35), Middle (pnd 37 to 48) or Late (pnd 50 to 61) adolescence, in an oral self-administration paradigm. During the drinking session (2 h/day), animals had free choice between either tap water or a nicotine solution (10 mg/l). After a 6-day period, a fading study was carried out, in which nicotine concentration was reduced to 7 mg/l (days 7-9) and 5 mg/l (days 10-12), to assess whether animals would compensate by increasing their intake from the nicotine solution. In Experiment 2, psychopharmacological effects on locomotion induced by the nicotine solution (0, 10, 30 mg/l) during the 1-h drinking session were assessed in Early and Late adolescent mice. In Experiment 1, Early adolescents expressed a marked and stable preference for the nicotine solution, showing a daily nicotine intake of 1.15 +/- 0.04 mg/kg. Middle adolescents did not show any preference for either bottle, whereas a tendency toward avoidance for the nicotine solution was found for Late adolescents. In the fading study, Early adolescents were the only group to show increased consumption from the nicotine bottle as far as nicotine concentration was reduced. A time-course analysis of plasma levels of cotinine (the principal biomarker of nicotine consumption) revealed some pharmacokinetic differences between the three age-groups. In Experiment 2, drinking from a nicotine solution produced a prominent hyperactivity in Early adolescents, whereas a quite opposite profile was associated with older subjects. In summary, even if a role for taste factors cannot be completely ruled out, a peculiar spontaneous drive toward oral nicotine consumption, as well as a nicotine-induced arousal, is specific to Early adolescence in mice. The present animal model might be useful to investigate psychobiological determinants involved in early tobacco smoking in human adolescents

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / drug effects*
  • Adolescent Behavior / physiology
  • Aging / drug effects*
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Arousal / drug effects
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cotinine / blood
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drinking / drug effects
  • Drinking / physiology
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Growth / drug effects
  • Growth / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Self Administration / psychology*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology*


  • Nicotine
  • Cotinine