Wheel running during chronic nicotine exposure is protective against mecamylamine-precipitated withdrawal and up-regulates hippocampal α7 nACh receptors in mice.

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Evidence suggests that exercise decreases nicotine withdrawal symptoms in humans; however, the mechanisms mediating this effect are unclear. We investigated, in a mouse model, the effect of exercise intensity during chronic nicotine exposure on nicotine withdrawal severity, binding of α4β2*, α7 nicotinic acetylcholine (nAChR), μ-opioid (μ receptors) and D2 dopamine receptors and on brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and plasma corticosterone levels.


Male C57Bl/6J mice treated with nicotine (minipump, 24 mg·kg-1 ·day-1 ) or saline for 14 days underwent one of three concurrent exercise regimes: 24, 2 or 0 h·day-1 voluntary wheel running. Mecamylamine-precipitated withdrawal symptoms were assessed on day 14. Quantitative autoradiography of α4β2*, α7 nAChRs, μ receptors and D2 receptor binding was performed in brain sections of these mice. Plasma corticosterone and brain BDNF levels were also measured.


Nicotine-treated mice undertaking 2 or 24 h·day-1 wheel running displayed a significant reduction in withdrawal symptom severity compared with the sedentary group. Wheel running induced a significant up-regulation of α7 nAChR binding in the CA2/3 area of the hippocampus of nicotine-treated mice. Neither exercise nor nicotine treatment affected μ or D2 receptor binding or BDNF levels. Nicotine withdrawal increased plasma corticosterone levels and α4β2* nAChR binding, irrespective of exercise regimen.


We demonstrated for the first time a profound effect of exercise on α7 nAChRs in nicotine-dependent animals, irrespective of exercise intensity. These findings shed light onto the mechanism underlining the protective effect of exercise on the development of nicotine dependence.

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