Molecular Neurobiology

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 101–121 | Cite as

Modulation of Hippocampus-Dependent Learning and Synaptic Plasticity by Nicotine



A long-standing relationship between nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) and cognition exists. Drugs that act at nAChRs can have cognitive-enhancing effects and diseases that disrupt cognition such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia are associated with altered nAChR function. Specifically, hippocampus-dependent learning is particularly sensitive to the effects of nicotine. However, the effects of nicotine on hippocampus-dependent learning vary not only with the doses of nicotine used and whether nicotine is administered acutely, chronically, or withdrawn after chronic nicotine treatment but also vary across different hippocampus-dependent tasks such as the Morris water maze, the radial arm maze, and contextual fear conditioning. In addition, nicotine has variable effects across different types of hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP). Because different types of hippocampus-dependent learning and LTP involve different neural and molecular substrates, comparing the effects of nicotine across these paradigms can yield insights into the mechanisms that may underlie the effects of nicotine on learning and memory and aid in understanding the variable effects of nicotine on cognitive processes. This review compares and contrasts the effects of nicotine on hippocampus-dependent learning and LTP and briefly discusses how the effects of nicotine on learning could contribute to nicotine addiction.


Nicotine Hippocampus Learning LTP Addiction Contextual learning Fear conditioning Nicotinic receptors Acetylcholine 



We thank Karen Coletti for assistance with the figure and acknowledge excellent suggestions from anonymous reviewers. Cited work from the authors’ laboratory was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) grant DA017949 (TJG) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism grant AA015515 (TJG). JWK was supported by NIDA training grant DA07237.


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Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Center for Substance Abuse Research, Weiss HallTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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