The effects of acute nicotine on contextual safety discrimination

Munir G. Kutlu, Chicora Oliver, Thomas J. Gould

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may be related to an inability to distinguish safe versus threatening environments and to extinguish fear memories. Given the high rate of cigarette smoking in patients with PTSD, as well as the recent finding that an acute dose of nicotine impairs extinction of contextual fear memory, we conducted a series of experiments to investigate the effect of acute nicotine in an animal model of contextual safety discrimination. Following saline or nicotine (at 0.0275, 0.045, 0.09 and 0.18 mg/kg) administration, C57BL/6J mice were trained in a contextual discrimination paradigm, in which the subjects received presentations of conditioned stimuli (CS) that co-terminated with a foot-shock in one context (context A (CXA)) and only CS presentations without foot-shock in a different context (context B (CXB)). Therefore, CXA was designated as the 'dangerous context', whereas CXB was designated as the 'safe context'. Our results suggested that saline-treated animals showed a strong discrimination between dangerous and safe contexts, while acute nicotine dose-dependently impaired contextual safety discrimination (Experiment 1). Furthermore, our results demonstrate that nicotine-induced impairment of contextual safety discrimination learning was not a result of increased generalized freezing (Experiment 2) or contingent on the common CS presentations in both contexts (Experiment 3). Finally, our results show that increasing the temporal gap between CXA and CXB during training abolished the impairing effects of nicotine (Experiment 4). The findings of this study may help link nicotine exposure to the safety learning deficits seen in anxiety disorder and PTSD patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1064-1070
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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