Rats quit nicotine for a sweet reward following an extensive history of nicotine use

Addict Biol. 2017 Jan;22(1):142-151. doi: 10.1111/adb.12306. Epub 2015 Sep 16.


Drug use may be exacerbated in environments which lack alternative means of engaging in rewarding behaviour. When alternative rewards are available, drug use may decrease-an effect that can be harnessed for therapeutic benefit. This idea is particularly well-supported by recent preclinical evidence demonstrating that a majority of rats will readily choose a potent non-drug reward over cocaine or heroin. Here we examine whether the same holds true for nicotine, a drug considered to have one of the highest addiction liabilities amongst drugs of abuse. Rats were trained to nose-poke separately for saccharin or nicotine on alternate days. Using a discrete-trial, forced-choice procedure, rats were then allowed to choose between nicotine and saccharin. This was followed by choice testing after a decrease in saccharin concentration (0.2-0%), omission of the fluid reward, an increase in nicotine concentration and following an extended nicotine self-administration history. All rats demonstrated a clear and immediate preference for saccharin at all times. This was despite variations in reward concentrations, or after an extensive nicotine history. Notably, rats preferred to nose-poke for water over nicotine and would omit responses when no fluid was delivered, rather than resume responding for nicotine. Overall, this study confirms and extends to nicotine previous research on other drugs of abuse, including cocaine and heroin. The ease with which rats quit nicotine in the present study contrasts with the well-known difficulty of humans to quit tobacco smoking. Possible factors that could explain this apparent discrepancy are discussed.

Keywords: Addiction; choice; extended training; nicotine; saccharin; self-administration.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Male
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reward*
  • Saccharin / pharmacology*
  • Sweetening Agents / pharmacology*


  • Sweetening Agents
  • Nicotine
  • Saccharin