Acute in vivo nicotine administration enhances synchrony among dopamine neurons

Biochem Pharmacol. 2011 Oct 15;82(8):977-83. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2011.06.006. Epub 2011 Jun 12.


Altered functional interactions among midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons contribute to the reinforcing properties of environmental stimuli and addictive drugs. To examine correlations among DA neurons, acute nicotine was administrated to rats via an intraperitoneal catheter and unit activity was measured using multi-tetrode in vivo recordings. Nicotine administration enhanced the correlated activity of simultaneously recorded DA neurons from the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The strength of the correlations between DA neuron pairs, as measured by cross covariance among two spike trains, showed dynamic changes over time. Nicotine produced a gradual rise in firing rate and burst activity that reached a stable plateau approximately 20 min after the intraperitoneal nicotine infusion. Shortly after that time the cross correlations measured using 5-ms bins increased significantly above baseline. In addition, nicotine increased the firing rates of DA neurons in the posterior VTA more than in the anterior VTA. Unlike nicotine, eticlopride administration also boosted DA neuron firing activity but did not enhance synchronization, indicating that the cross correlations induced by nicotine were not due to a non-specific increase in firing rate. The overall results show that nicotine induces nearly synchronous firing by a subset of DA neurons, and those changes in correlative firing will enhance the DA signal that contributes to nicotine-induced behavioral reinforcement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects*
  • Animals
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Microelectrodes
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / drug effects*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / metabolism


  • Nicotine
  • Dopamine