Background: Although heavy smoking has been associated with impulsivity in humans, it is not clear whether poor impulse control represents a risk factor in the etiology of nicotine dependence.
Methods: To address this issue, rats were selected on the basis of individual differences in impulsivity in the delayed reward task (impulsive choice) and the 5-choice serial reaction time task (impulsive action). Subsequently, rats were subjected to a nicotine self-administration (SA) paradigm tailored to measure the motivational properties of nicotine and nicotine-associated stimuli. In separate groups, differences in electrically evoked dopamine release in slice preparations obtained from several mesolimbic brain regions were determined.
Results: Impulsive action was associated with an enhanced motivation to initiate and maintain nicotine SA. In contrast, impulsive choice predicted a diminished ability to inhibit nicotine seeking during abstinence and an enhanced vulnerability to relapse upon re-exposure to nicotine cues. Impulsive action was associated with reduced dopamine release in the accumbens core and impulsive choice with reduced dopamine release in accumbens core, shell, and medial prefrontal cortex.
Conclusions: The strong association between sub-dimensions of impulsivity and nicotine SA implies that interventions aimed to improve impulse control might help to reduce susceptibility to nicotine dependence and/or lead to successful smoking cessation.