Nicotinic receptor systems are involved in a wide variety of behavioral functions including cognitive function. Nicotinic medications may provide beneficial treatment for cognitive dysfunction such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nicotine has been shown to improve attentional performance in all of these disorders. Better efficacy with fewer side effects might be achieved with novel nicotinic ligands selective for particular nicotinic subtypes. To develop these novel selective nicotinic ligands it is important to use animal models to determine the critical neurobehavioral bases for nicotinic involvement in cognitive function. Nicotine-induced cognitive improvement in rats is most consistently seen in working memory tasks. We have found that both acute and chronic nicotine administration significantly improves working memory performance of rats in the radial-arm maze. The pharmacologic and anatomic mechanisms for this effect have been examined in our laboratory in a series of local drug infusion studies. Both alpha 4 beta 2 and alpha 7 nicotinic receptors in the ventral hippocampus and basolateral amygdala are involved in working memory function. Working memory impairments were caused by local infusion of either alpha 4 beta 2 or alpha 7 antagonists. Ventral hippocampal alpha 4 beta 2 blockade-induced working memory deficits are reversed by chronic systemic nicotine treatment, while ventral hippocampal alpha 7 blockade-induced working memory deficits were not found to be reversed by the same nicotine regimen. Interestingly, alpha 4 beta 2 and alpha 7 induced deficits were not found to be additive in either the ventral hippocampus or the basolateral amygdala. In fact, in the amygdala, alpha 7 antagonist cotreatment actually reversed the working memory impairment caused by alpha 4 beta 2 antagonist administration. These studies of the neural nicotinic mechanisms underlying cognitive function are key for opening avenues for development of safe and effective nicotinic treatments for cognitive dysfunction.
Copyright 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.