Evaluation of novel epibatidine analogs in the rat nicotine drug discrimination assay and in the rat chronic constriction injury neuropathic pain model

Adv Drug Alcohol Res. 2023 Sep 11:3:11622. doi: 10.3389/adar.2023.11622. eCollection 2023.


Nicotine is the primary psychoactive component responsible for maintaining tobacco dependence in humans. Chronic pain is often a consequence of tobacco-related pathologies, and the development of a dual therapeutic that could treat chronic pain and tobacco dependence would be advantageous. Epibatidine reliably substitutes for nicotine in the drug discrimination assay, and is a potent analgesic, but has a side-effect profile that limits its therapeutic potential. Thus, considerable efforts to produce epibatidine derivatives are underway. Here we tested three epibatidine derivatives, 2'-fluoro-3'-(4-nitrophenyl)deschloroepibatidine (RTI-7527-102; i.e., RTI-102), 2'-fluorodeschloroepibatidine (RTI-7527-36; i.e., RTI-36), and 3'-(3″-dimethylaminophenyl)-epibatidine (RTI-7527-76; i.e., RTI-76) in both the rat nicotine drug discrimination assay as well as in the rat chronic constriction injury (CCI) of the sciatic nerve neuropathic pain model. Male and female Sprague-Dawley rats were trained on a fixed-ratio 10 schedule to discriminate nicotine (0.32 mg/kg base) from vehicle. All compounds dose-dependently substituted for nicotine, without significant decreases in response rates. In the discrimination assay the rank order potency was RTI-36 > nicotine > RTI-102 > RTI-76. Evidence suggests the α4β2* subtype is particularly important to nicotine-related abuse potential. Thus, here we utilized the antagonist dihydro-β-erythroidine (DHβE) to examine relative β2 subunit contribution. DHβE (3.2 mg/kg, s.c.) antagonized the discriminative stimulus effects of nicotine. However, relative to antagonism of nicotine, DHβE produced less antagonism of RTI-102 and RTI-76 and greater antagonism of RTI-36. It is likely that at nicotinic receptor subunits RTI-102, RTI-76 and RTI-36 possess differing activity. To confirm that the full discriminative stimulus of these compounds was due to nAChR activity beyond the β2 subunit, we examined these compounds in the presence of the non-selective nicotinic receptor antagonist mecamylamine. Mecamylamine (0.56 mg/kg, s.c.) pretreatment abolished nicotine-paired lever responding for all compounds. In a separate cohort, male and female Sprague-Dawley rats underwent CCI surgery and tested for CCI-induced mechanical allodynia via the von Frey assay. Each compound produced CCI-induced mechanical allodynia reversal. RTI-36 displayed higher potency than either RTI-102 or RTI-76. These novel epibatidine analogs may prove to be useful tools in the fight against nicotine dependence as well as novel neuropathic pain analgesics.

Keywords: CCI-chronic constriction injury; drug abuse; drug addiction; neuropathic pain; nicotine.

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse DA25267 (LM).