Rationale: The effects of nicotine on cognitive processes may play an important role in nicotine addiction. Nicotine withdrawal impairs hippocampus-dependent learning and genetic factors influence this effect. However, the neural changes that contribute to these impairments are unknown. Chronic nicotine upregulates hippocampal nicotinic acetycholine receptors (nAChRs), which may contribute to cognitive deficits when nicotine administration ceases. If nAChR upregulation underlies withdrawal deficits in learning, then strains of mice exhibiting withdrawal deficits in hippocampus-dependent learning should also show upregulation of hippocampal nAChRs. Objectives: Here, we examined the effects of nicotine withdrawal on fear conditioning and [3H]epibatidine binding in the dorsal and ventral hippocampus in two inbred mouse strains and their F1 hybrids. Methods: Male C57BL/6NTac, 129S6/SvEvTac, and B6129SF1/Tac mice were administered chronic nicotine (18 mg/kg/day) for 12 days through osmotic pumps and then were trained and tested in fear conditioning 24 h after cessation of nicotine treatment. Results: Nicotine withdrawal impaired hippocampus-dependent contextual conditioning in C57BL/6NTac mice but not 129S6/SvEvTac or B6129SF1/Tac mice; no changes were observed in hippocampus-independent cued fear conditioning. Upregulated [3H]epibatidine binding was found in the dorsal, but not ventral, hippocampus of C57BL/6NTac mice and in the ventral hippocampus of B6129SF1/Tac mice after chronic nicotine. Conclusions: Upregulation of high-affinity binding sites in the dorsal hippocampus of C57BL/6NTac mice, the only strain that exhibited nAChR upregulation in this region and withdrawal deficits in contextual conditioning, suggests that upregulation of high-affinity binding sites in the dorsal hippocampus mediates, in part, nicotine withdrawal deficits in contextual conditioning and genetic background modulates these effects.
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