Chronic nicotine exposure produces lateralized, age-dependent dendritic remodeling in the rodent basolateral amygdala

Synapse. 2010 Oct;64(10):754-64. doi: 10.1002/syn.20783.


This study investigated the dendritic morphology of neurons located in the right and left basolateral amygdala (BLA) and infralimbic (IL) cortex following chronic nicotine exposure during adolescence or adulthood. Sprague-Dawley rats were administered subcutaneous injections of nicotine (0.5 mg/kg; free base) or saline three times per week for 2 weeks (six total injections). The dose period began on either postnatal day (P) 32 (adolescent) or P61 (adult). Twenty days following the end of dosing, brains were processed for Golgi-Cox staining, and dendrites from principal neurons in the BLA and pyramidal neurons in the IL were digitally reconstructed in three dimensions. Morphometric analysis revealed a contrasting pattern of BLA dendritic morphology between the adolescent and adult pretreatment groups. In the adult control group, basilar dendritic length did not differ with respect to hemisphere. Nicotine induced robust hemispheric asymmetry by increasing dendritic length in the right hemisphere only. In contrast, adolescent nicotine exposure did not produce significant alteration of basilar dendritic morphology. There was, however, an indication that nicotine eliminated a naturally existing hemispheric asymmetry in the younger cohort. At both ages, nicotine produced a reduction in complexity of the apical tree of principal neurons. Chronic nicotine did not affect the dendritic morphology of pyramidal neurons from the IL in either age group, indicating another dimension of anatomical specificity. Collectively, these data implicate the BLA as a target for lasting neuroplasticity associated with chronic nicotine exposure. Further, hemispheric differences in dendritic morphology were uncovered that depended on the age of nicotine exposure, a finding that underscores the importance of considering laterality when investigating neurodevelopmental effects of drug exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Amygdala / drug effects
  • Amygdala / growth & development
  • Amygdala / ultrastructure*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development
  • Cerebral Cortex / ultrastructure
  • Dendrites / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / administration & dosage*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Silver Staining / methods


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotine