, Volume 359, Issue 3, pp 194-203

Comparison of the effects of acute and subchronic administration of atipamezole on reaction to novelty and active avoidance learning in rats

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The effects of an α2-adrenoceptor antagonist, atipamezole, on exploratory behaviour in a novel environment, spontaneous motor activity and active avoidance learning were studied after acute injection and continuous infusion (0.1 mg/kg h) for 24 h and 6–9 days in rats. The effects of atipamezole on biogenic amines and their main metabolites in brain were studied after an acute injection (0.3 mg/kg s.c.) and continuous infusion (0.1 mg/kg h) for 24 h and 10 days. The level of central α2-adrenoceptor antagonism and the drug concentration in blood and in the brain were measured after continuous infusion for 24 h and 10 days. In behavioural tests, atipamezole had no effect on spontaneous motor activity at any of the doses studied. However, after both acute administration and continuous 24-h infusion, atipamezole decreased exploratory behaviour in a staircase test, but no longer after 6 days of continuous infusion. Acute administration of atipamezole impaired performance in active avoidance learning tests causing a learned helplessness-like behaviour. When the training was started after 7 days of continuous infusion, atipamezole significantly improved active avoidance learning. There was a significant increase in the metabolite of noradrenaline (NA), 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylethyleneglycol sulphate (MHPG-SO4), after 24 h but not any longer after 10 days of continuous atipamezole infusion, although the extent of central α2-adrenoceptor antagonism was unchanged and the atipamezole concentration present in brain was even elevated at 10 days compared to levels after 24-h infusion. In conclusion, these results reveal that acute and sub-chronic atipamezole treatments have different and even opposite effects on behaviour in novel, stressful situations. After acute treatment, atipamezole potentiates reaction to novelty and stress, causing a decrease in exploratory activity and impairment in shock avoidance learning. After subchronic treatment, there was no longer any effect on exploratory behaviour and, in fact, there was an improvement in the learning of a mildly stressful active avoidance test. The changes in behaviour occurred in parallel with attenuation in the MHPG-SO4-increasing effect, thus the suppressed behaviour in the present test conditions after acute atipamezole injection is associated with a major increase in central NA release. The results support the role of α2-adrenoceptors and noradrenergic system in reactions both to novelty and stress and have possible implications in cognitive functions as well as in depression.

Received: 6 August 1998 / Accepted: 4 January 1999