Sex differences in anxiety-like behavior and locomotor activity following chronic nicotine exposure in mice

Neurosci Lett. 2008 Jul 11;439(2):187-91. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2008.05.023. Epub 2008 May 13.


Smoking appears to increase overall levels of stress, despite self-reports that men and women smoke to control symptoms of anxiety. The overall incidence of anxiety disorders is also significantly higher in women. This study examined whether behavioral sensitivity to chronic nicotine varies across sexes in mice. Male and female C57BL/6J mice were exposed chronically to nicotine in the drinking water (50, 100, or 200 microg/ml) and tested for locomotor activation and anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus maze (EPM). Female mice were less sensitive to the locomotor activating effects of chronic nicotine. Whereas both males and females showed increases in locomotor activity at the highest (200 microg/ml) concentration of nicotine, only males showed locomotor activation at the middle (100 microg/ml) concentration. The decreased sensitivity in females could not be explained by reduced nicotine intake compared to males. In the EPM, nicotine produced an anxiogenic-like response in females, but had no effect in males. Treatment with the high (200 microg/ml) dose of nicotine reduced the amount of time spent in the open arms of the EPM in female, but not male mice. No differences in the anxiogenic-like response to chronic nicotine was observed between beta2-subunit knockout and wildtype mice, suggesting that beta2-subunit containing nicotinic receptors do not mediate the anxiogenic-like response to chronic nicotine in females. This shows that female mice have an anxiogenic-like response to chronic nicotine, but are less sensitive to nicotine's psychostimulant properties, which may be related to the increased relapse to smoking following abstinence in women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / genetics
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Motor Activity / drug effects*
  • Motor Activity / genetics
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / administration & dosage*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / deficiency
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • nicotinic receptor beta2
  • Nicotine