, Volume 235, Issue 4, pp 1211–1219 | Cite as

Differential effects of α4β2 nicotinic receptor antagonists and partial-agonists on contextual fear extinction in male C57BL/6 mice

  • Munir Gunes Kutlu
  • Jessica M. Tumolo
  • Courtney Cann
  • Thomas J. Gould
Original Investigation



Numerous studies have attributed the psychopathology of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to maladaptive behavioral responses such as an inability to extinguish fear. While exposure therapies are mostly effective in treating these disorders by enhancing extinction learning, relapse of PTSD symptoms is common. Although several studies indicated a role for cholinergic transmission and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in anxiety and stress disorder symptomatology, very little is known about the specific contribution of nAChRs to fear extinction


In the present study, we examined the effects of inhibition and desensitization of α4β2 nAChRs via a full antagonist (Dihydro-beta-erythroidine (DhβE)) and two α4β2 nAChR partial-agonists (varenicline and sazetidine-A) on contextual fear extinction, locomotor activity, and spontaneous recovery of contextual fear in mice.


We trained and tested the subjects in a contextual fear extinction as well as an open field paradigm and spontaneous recovery following injections of DhβE, varenicline, and sazetidine-A.


Our results demonstrated that lower doses of DhβE (1 mg/kg) and sazetidine-A (0.01 mg/kg) enhanced contextual fear extinction whereas higher doses of varenicline (0.1 mg/kg) and sazetidine-A (0.1 mg/kg) resulted in impaired contextual fear extinction. However, the higher dose of sazetidine-A (0.1 mg/kg) decreased locomotor activity, which may contribute to increased freezing response observed during fear extinction. Finally, we found that the low dose of DhβE, but not sazetidine-A, also decreased spontaneous recovery of contextual fear following fear extinction.


Overall, these results suggest that inhibition and desensitization of α4β2 nAChRs enhance extinction of contextual fear memories. This suggests that modulation of α4β2 nAChRs may be employed as an alternative pharmacological strategy to aid exposure therapies associated with PTSD by augmenting contextual fear extinction processes.


Nicotinic receptors Fear extinction Spontaneous recovery PTSD 



This work was funded with grant support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (T.J.G., DA017949; 1U01DA041632), Jean Phillips Shibley Endowment, and Penn State Biobehavioral Health Department. We declare no potential conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Munir Gunes Kutlu
    • 1
  • Jessica M. Tumolo
    • 2
  • Courtney Cann
    • 1
  • Thomas J. Gould
    • 1
  1. 1.The Department of Biobehavioral HealthPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyTemple UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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