Objective: Twenty percent of adolescents between 12 and 18 years old are regular smokers. Recently developed animal models demonstrate that adolescent nicotine exposure produces behavioral and electrophysiological changes, which persist into adulthood. The purpose of this study was to further define the behavioral effects of nicotine exposure during adolescence.
Methods: Male 31-36-day-old adolescent rats were administered 5.0 mg/kg/day nicotine using transdermal Nicoderm CQ patches (SmithKline Beecham). During nicotine exposure, motor activity was assessed. Behavior in both standard open field and modified open field was examined 2-3 weeks after exposure ended.
Results: Nicotine exposure significantly enhanced motor activity in nicotine-exposed rats compared with controls, demonstrating the acute stimulatory effects of transdermal nicotine. Two to three weeks after nicotine exposure ended, significantly lower levels of exploratory activity were observed relative to controls in the standard open field. Rats exposed to nicotine during adolescence also retreated to the perimeter of the open field more quickly than control rats. In a modified open field, nicotine exposure reduced approaches to food, contact with food and food intake.
Conclusions: Taken together, these data suggest that adolescent nicotine exposure may induce an anxiogenic profile, which persists beyond acute nicotine withdrawal. Given the hypothesized role of stress and anxiety in the maintenance of smoking, it could be speculated that anxiety associated with smoking abstinence may play an important role in continued adolescent tobacco use.