Evidence for enhanced neurobehavioral vulnerability to nicotine during periadolescence in rats

J Neurosci. 2003 Jun 1;23(11):4712-6. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.23-11-04712.2003.


Epidemiological studies indicate that there is an increased likelihood for the development of nicotine addiction when cigarette smoking starts early during adolescence. These observations suggest that adolescence could be a "critical" ontogenetic period, during which drugs of abuse have distinct effects responsible for the development of dependence later in life. We compared the long-term behavioral and molecular effects of repeated nicotine treatment during either periadolescence or postadolescence in rats. It was found that exposure to nicotine during periadolescence, but not a similar exposure in the postadolescent period, increased the intravenous self-administration of nicotine and the expression of distinct subunits of the ligand-gated acetylcholine receptor in adult animals. Both these changes indicated an increased sensitivity to the addictive properties of nicotine. In conclusion, adolescence seems to be a critical developmental period, characterized by enhanced neurobehavioral vulnerability to nicotine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Critical Period, Psychological
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / drug effects
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Protein Subunits / genetics
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Self Administration
  • Sexual Maturation / physiology*
  • Substantia Nigra / drug effects
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism
  • Time
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / etiology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / drug effects
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / metabolism


  • Protein Subunits
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Nicotine