Nicotinic receptor blockade decreases fos immunoreactivity within orexin/hypocretin-expressing neurons of nicotine-exposed rats

Behav Brain Res. 2016 Nov 1:314:226-33. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2016.07.053. Epub 2016 Aug 1.


Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Nicotine is the principal psychoactive ingredient in tobacco that causes addiction. The structures governing nicotine addiction, including those underlying withdrawal, are still being explored. Nicotine withdrawal is characterized by negative affective and cognitive symptoms that enhance relapse susceptibility, and suppressed dopaminergic transmission from ventral tegmental area (VTA) to target structures underlies behavioral symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Agonist and partial agonist therapies help 1 in 4 treatment-seeking smokers at one-year post-cessation, and new targets are needed to more effectively aid smokers attempting to quit. Hypothalamic orexin/hypocretin neurons send excitatory projections to dopamine (DA)-producing neurons of VTA and modulate mesoaccumbal DA release. The effects of nicotinic receptor blockade, which is commonly used to precipitate withdrawal, on orexin neurons remain poorly investigated and present an attractive target for intervention. The present study sought to investigate the effects of nicotinic receptor blockade on hypothalamic orexin neurons using mecamylamine to precipitate withdrawal in rats. Separate groups of rats were treated with either chronic nicotine or saline for 7-days at which point effects of mecamylamine or saline on somatic signs and anxiety-like behavior were assessed. Finally, tissue from rats was harvested for immunofluorescent analysis of Fos within orexin neurons. Results demonstrate that nicotinic receptor blockade leads to reduced orexin cell activity, as indicated by lowered Fos-immunoreactivity, and suggest that this underlying cellular activity may be associated with symptoms of nicotine withdrawal as effects were most prominently observed in rats given chronic nicotine. We conclude from this study that orexin transmission becomes suppressed in rats upon nicotinic receptor blockade, and that behavioral symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal may be aided by intervention upon orexinergic transmission.

Keywords: Addiction; Fos; Hypocretin; Hypothalamus; Mecamylamine; Nicotine withdrawal; Orexin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopamine / pharmacology
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Male
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nicotine / pharmacology
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Oncogene Proteins v-fos / metabolism
  • Orexins / metabolism*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / drug effects*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / drug effects
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / metabolism


  • Nicotinic Antagonists
  • Oncogene Proteins v-fos
  • Orexins
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Nicotine
  • Dopamine