Adolescent nicotine exposure disrupts context conditioning in adulthood in rats

Andrea M. Spaeth, William & Mary
Robert C. Barnet, William & Mary
Pamela S. Hunt, William & Mary
Joshua A. Burk, William & Mary


Despite the prevalence of smoking among adolescents, few studies have assessed the effects of adolescent nicotine exposure on learning in adulthood. In particular, it remains unclear whether adolescent nicotine exposure has effects on hippocampus-dependent learning that persist into adulthood. The present experiment examined whether there were effects of adolescent nicotine exposure on context conditioning, a form of learning dependent on the integrity of the hippocampus, when tested during adulthood. Rats were exposed to nicotine during adolescence (postnatal days [PD] 28-42) via osmotic minipump (0, 3.0 or 6.0 mg/kg/day). Context conditioning occurred in early adulthood (PD 65-70). Animals were exposed to an experimental context and were given 10 unsignaled footshocks or no shock. Additional groups were included to test the effects of adolescent nicotine on delay conditioning, a form of learning that is not dependent upon the hippocampus. Conditioning was assessed using a lick suppression paradigm. For animals in the context conditioning groups, adolescent nicotine resulted in significantly less suppression of drinking in the presence of context cues compared with vehicle-pretreated animals. For animals in the delay conditioning groups, there was a trend for adolescent nicotine (3.0 mg/kg/day) to suppress drinking compared to vehicle-pretreated animals. There were no differences in extinction of contextual fear or cued fear between rats previously exposed to vehicle or nicotine. The data indicate that adolescent nicotine administration impairs context conditioning when animals are trained and tested as adults. The present data suggest that adolescent nicotine exposure may disrupt hippocampus-dependent learning when animals are tested during adulthood. (C) 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.