The strong reinforcing effects of nicotine and the negative symptoms such as anxiety experienced during a quit attempt often lead to relapse and low success rates for smoking cessation. Treatments that not only block the reinforcing effects of nicotine but also attenuate the motivation to relapse are needed to improve cessation rates. Recent genetic and preclinical studies have highlighted the involvement of the α3, β4, and α5 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) subunits and the α3β4 nAChR subtype in nicotine dependence and withdrawal. However, the involvement of these nAChR in relapse is not fully understood. We previously reported that the α3β4 nAChR partial agonist AT-1001 selectively decreases nicotine self-administration in rats without affecting food responding. In the present experiments, we examined the efficacy of AT-1001 in attenuating reinstatement of nicotine-seeking behavior in a model of stress-induced relapse. Rats extinguished from nicotine self-administration were treated with the pharmacological stressor yohimbine prior to AT-1001 treatment and reinstatement testing. We also examined whether AT-1001 produced any withdrawal-related effects when administered to nicotine-dependent rats.
We found that AT-1001 dose-dependently reduced yohimbine stress-induced reinstatement of nicotine seeking. When administered to nicotine-dependent rats at the dose that significantly blocked nicotine reinstatement, AT-1001 elicited minimal somatic withdrawal signs in comparison to the nicotinic antagonist mecamylamine, which is known to produce robust withdrawal. Our data suggest that α3β4 nAChR-targeted compounds may be a promising approach for nicotine addiction treatment because they can not only block nicotine’s reinforcing effects, but also decrease motivation to relapse without producing significant withdrawal effects.