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Neuroendocrine responses to nicotine and stress: enhancement of peripheral stress responses by the administration of nicotine

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Habitual smokers frequently report that when they are stressed smoking helps them to relax. One potential explanation for the reported stress ameliorating effect of smoking is that cigarette consumption (nicotine self-administration) may decrease the sympathetic autonomic nervous system activity which is associated with the stress response. In the present study, rabbits prepared with chronic vascular cannulae were used to study the effects of nicotine administation on plasma corticosterone, catecholamine (epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine) and glucose responses to physical restraint stress. Nicotine (0.025, 0.05 or 0.10 mg nicotine base/kg body weight) was administered for 10 days prior to the “stress test” to allow for the development of habituation/tolerance to its acute toxic effects. Independent administration of nicotine, or the application of the physical restraint stressor, resulted in increases in the plasma concentrations of corticosterone, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and glucose. Nicotine administration during restraint stress enhanced the increase in plasma corticosterone and epinephrine, as compared to the responses induced by either factor alone. The results suggest that the stress ameliorating effect of continued cigarette smoking, as reported by habitual smokers, is not due to a reduction in the activity of the peripheral sympathetic autonomic nervous system.

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Morse, D.E. Neuroendocrine responses to nicotine and stress: enhancement of peripheral stress responses by the administration of nicotine. Psychopharmacology 98, 539–543 (1989).

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