Nicotine improves sustained attention in mice: evidence for involvement of the alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2004 May;29(5):891-900. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300393.


In humans, nicotine has been shown to improve attention in both normal and impaired individuals. Observations in rats reflect some, but not all aspects of the nicotine-induced improvements in humans. To date these findings have not been replicated in mice. To examine the effect of nicotine on sustained attention in mice, we have established a version of the 5-choice serial reaction-time (5-CSR) task with graded levels of difficulty, based upon spatial displacement and a variable intertrial interval. Using this paradigm, microgram doses of nicotine produced a consistent reduction in the level of omissions and an improvement in proportion correct in normal mice. This improvement in sustained attention was made irrespectively of whether mice had previously received nicotine. In an attempt to elucidate which nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subtype(s) mediate this effect, we examined the performance of alpha7 nAChR knockout (KO) mice in the 5-CSR task. alpha7 nAChR KO mice not only acquired the task more slowly than their wild-type littermates, but on attaining asymptotic performance, they exhibited a higher level of omissions. In conclusion, by increasing the level of task difficulty, the performance of mice was maintained at sufficiently low levels to allow a demonstrable improvement in performance upon nicotine administration. Furthermore, as alpha7 KO mice are clearly impaired in the acquisition and asymptotic performance of this task, the alpha7 nAChR may be involved in mediating these effects of nicotine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aconitine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Aconitine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Attention / drug effects*
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Genotype
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / metabolism
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Radioligand Assay
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / drug effects
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / physiology*
  • Synaptic Membranes / drug effects
  • Synaptosomes / drug effects
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor


  • Chrna7 protein, human
  • Chrna7 protein, mouse
  • Chrna7 protein, rat
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotinic Antagonists
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor
  • methyllycaconitine
  • Nicotine
  • Aconitine