Repeated nicotine exposure in rats: Effects on memory function, cholinergic markers and nerve growth factor

C. M. Hernandez, A. V. Terry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


A decrease in the number of nicotinic-acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the brain is thought to contribute to the cognitive dysfunction associated with diseases as diverse as Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. Interestingly, nicotine and similar compounds have been shown to enhance memory function and increase the expression of nAChRs and therefore, could have a therapeutic role in the aforementioned diseases. Nicotine has also been shown to exert positive effects on certain neurotrophins such as nerve growth factor (NGF), and therefore could play a role beyond mere symptomatic therapy. However, to date, comprehensive studies of nicotine's effects on the expression of specific acetylcholine (ACh) receptor subtypes, key cholinergic proteins (that are regulated by NGF) such as choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) and the vesicular ACh transporter (VAChT) are lacking. Studies to further investigate the effects of nicotine on NGF especially its high- and low-affinity receptors are also needed. In the present study, male Wistar rats exposed a relatively low dosage of nicotine (0.35 mg/kg every 12 h) for 14 days demonstrated improved memory performance (assessed in two separate water maze testing methods) when compared with controls. Autoradiographic experiments indicated that nicotine increased [ 3H]-epibatidine, [ 125I]-α-bungarotoxin and [ 3H]-AFDX384, but not [ 3H]-pirenzepine binding sites in several learning- and memory-related brain areas. The expression of ChAT, VAChT, as well as tropomyosin-receptor kinase A (TrkA) NGF receptors and phospho-TrK receptors was increased by nicotine in the hippocampus. No changes were observed in the levels of the NGF peptide or low affinity p75 neurotrophin receptors (p75 NTR), however. These results suggest that repeated exposure to nicotine results in positive effects on central cholinergic markers and memory function, which may be mediated via effects on high-affinity NGF receptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)997-1012
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2005


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • NGF
  • acetylcholine
  • cognition
  • nicotinic receptor
  • schizophrenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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