Intravenous nicotine self-administration is the most direct measure of nicotine reinforcement in laboratory animals, but this procedure has proven difficult to establish in mice. We found that stable responding for nicotine in C57BL6/J mice was facilitated by prior instrumental training for food reward, initial exposure of mice to a lower unit dose of nicotine (0.03 mg kg(-1) per infusion) before access to higher doses, a slower rate of drug delivery (3-s versus 1-s infusion), consistency in schedule of daily testing, and low extraneous noise during testing. Under these conditions, we found that mice lever-pressed for nicotine (0.03-0.4 mg kg(-1) per infusion; 60-min test sessions) under a fixed-ratio 5 time-out 20-s (FR5TO20) reinforcement schedule and consumed the drug according to an inverted 'U'-shaped dose-response curve. Mice switched their responding onto a previously non-reinforced lever to continue earning nicotine infusions when the active/inactive lever assignment was reversed. The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) antagonist mecamylamine decreased responding for nicotine, but not food rewards, verifying that nAChRs regulate nicotine self-administration in mice. The cue-light paired with nicotine delivery did not support responding when delivered independently of nicotine infusions, further verifying that mice responded selectivity for the drug. Nicotine-seeking responses extinguished when nicotine infusions and the cue-light were withheld, and exposure to the cue-light reinstated responding. Finally, mice without prior instrumental food training acquired stable responding for nicotine under the FR5TO20 schedule, but required a greater number of sessions. These data demonstrate that nicotine is an effective reinforcer in mice and establish conditions under which the drug is reliably self-administered by mice.
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