, Volume 232, Issue 5, pp 975–983 | Cite as

Differentiating the primary reinforcing and reinforcement-enhancing effects of varenicline

  • Rachel L. Schassburger
  • Melissa E. Levin
  • Matthew T. Weaver
  • Matthew I. Palmatier
  • Anthony R. Caggiula
  • Eric C. Donny
  • Alan F. Sved
Original Investigation



Varenicline (VAR), a smoking cessation aid that is a partial agonist at nicotinic receptors, mimics the reinforcement-enhancing effects of nicotine. Varenicline, when accompanied by non-drug cues, is self-administered by rats, though it is unclear whether this results from varenicline acting as a primary reinforcer or a reinforcement enhancer of the cues.


This study sought to disentangle these two potential actions.


Rats were allowed to self-administer intravenous nicotine, saline, or varenicline during 1-h sessions in operant chambers equipped with two levers. Five groups had concurrent access to drug infusions and a moderately reinforcing visual stimulus (VS) for responding on separate levers. Meeting the reinforcement schedule on one lever was reinforced with VAR (0.01, 0.06, 0.1 mg/kg/infusion), nicotine (0.06 mg/kg/infusion), or saline, while meeting the same schedule on the other lever delivered the VS. Additional groups were reinforced for pressing a single “active” lever and received VAR paired with the VS, the VS with response-independent infusions of VAR, or VAR alone (0.1 mg/kg/infusion).


Rats readily responded for VAR paired with VS on a single lever. However, when VAR was the only reinforcer contingent on a response, rats did not respond more than for saline.


These findings show that VAR does not serve as a primary reinforcer in rats at doses that increase responding for non-drug reinforcers. These data are consistent with research showing that the primary reinforcing effects of VAR are weak, at best, and that the primary reinforcing and reinforcement-enhancing actions of nicotinic drugs are pharmacologically distinct.


Varenicline Nicotine Self-administration Reinforcement Rats 



This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health grants DA-10464 and DA-24801. Varenicline was generously donated by Pfizer, Inc.

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel L. Schassburger
    • 1
  • Melissa E. Levin
    • 2
  • Matthew T. Weaver
    • 3
  • Matthew I. Palmatier
    • 4
  • Anthony R. Caggiula
    • 2
  • Eric C. Donny
    • 2
  • Alan F. Sved
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of NeuroscienceUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyMercyhurst UniversityErieUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyEast Tennessee State UniversityJohnson CityUSA

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