A behavioral economic analysis of the value-enhancing effects of nicotine and varenicline and the role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in male and female rats

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Reinforcement value enhancement by nicotine of non-nicotine rewards is believed to partially motivate smoking behavior. Recently, we showed that the value-enhancing effects of nicotine are well characterized by reinforcer demand models and that the value-enhancing effects of the smoking-cessation aid bupropion (Zyban) are distinct from those of nicotine and differ between the sexes. The present study evaluated potential sex differences in the enhancement effects of nicotine and varenicline (Chantix) using a reinforcer demand methodology. The role of α4β2* and α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the enhancing effects of nicotine and varenicline is also evaluated. Male and female rats (n=12/sex) were trained to lever press maintained by sensory reinforcement by visual stimulus (VS) presentations. Changes in the VS value following nicotine and varenicline administration were assessed using an established reinforcer demand approach. Subsequently, the effects of antagonism of α4β2* and α7 nAChRs on varenicline and nicotine-induced enhancement active lever-pressing were assessed using a progressive ratio schedule. Nicotine and varenicline enhanced VS demand equivalently between the sexes as evaluated by reinforcer demand. However, α4β2* receptor antagonism attenuated value enhancement by nicotine and varenicline in females, but only of nicotine in males.

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