, Volume 123, Issue 1, pp 88–97 | Cite as

Acute and chronic nicotine effects on working memory in aged rats

  • E. D. Levin
  • D. Torry
Original Investigation


Acute and chronic nicotine administration has been repeatedly been found in our laboratory to improve working memory performance of normal adult rats in the radial-arm maze. The current study was conducted to determine if acute or chronic nicotine administration would improve working memory performance in aged rats. Sixteen young adult (3–7 months) and 32 aged (24–28 months) male Sprague-Dawley rats were trained on an eight-arm radial maze. A significant age-related choice deficit was seen during the 21 sessions of training. After training, half of the rats in each age group were implanted with nicotine-containing osmotic minipumps and the other half implanted with vehicle-containing pumps. Consistent with previous work, the young adult rats given chronic nicotine (approximately 5 mg/kg per day as measured as nicotine base) showed a significant improvement in working memory performance. In contrast, the aged rats did not show a significant effect of this dose of chronic nicotine. After a 2 week withdrawal period the remaining rats underwent a series of acute drug challenges with nicotinic and muscarinic agonists and antagonists as well as the dopaminergic antagonist haloperidol. Mecamylamine and haloperidol impaired the memory performance of the young adult rats, whereas the aged rats showed no effect. In contrast, scopolamine impaired performance of both young adult and aged rats in a similar manner. Both pilocarpine and nicotine improved the memory performance of the aged rats, but did not improve the young adult rats, possibly due to a ceiling effect on performance. During the cholinergic agonist drug phase, the aged rats which had previously been given chronic nicotine infusions showed better performance than those which had not. The resistance of the aged rats to chronic nicotine-induced working memory improvements and acute mecamylamine-induced working memory deficits may have resulted from the decline in nicotinic receptors seen with aging. Chronic co-administration of the nicotinic antagonist mecamylamine in a previous study was found to abolish the chronic nicotine-induced working memory improvement. The aged rats were resistant to haloperidol-induced deficits which may have resulted from the decrease in dopaminergic receptors seen with aging. Interestingly, acute cholinergic agonists including nicotine did improve working memory performance in the aged rats and previous chronic nicotine infusion was beneficial during the period of acute cholinergic agonist challenge. This suggests that nicotinic treatment may be of use for treating age associated memory impairments but that special dosing regimens may be required.

Key words

Nicotine Memory Rats Aging 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. D. Levin
    • 1
  • D. Torry
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryDuke University Medical CtrDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiochemistryUniversity of BathBathUK

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