Effects of nicotine and minor tobacco alkaloids on intracranial-self-stimulation in rats

Andrew C. Harris, Laura Tally, Peter Muelken, Andrew Banal, Clare E. Schmidt, Qing Cao, Mark G. LeSage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Background: While nicotine is the primary addictive compound in tobacco, other tobacco constituents including minor alkaloids (e.g., nornicotine, anabasine) may also contribute to tobacco addiction by mimicking or enhancing the effects of nicotine. Further evaluating the behavioral effects of minor alkaloids is essential for understanding their impact on tobacco addiction and informing development of tobacco product standards by the FDA. Methods: This study compared the addiction-related effects of nicotine and the minor alkaloids nornicotine, anabasine, myosmine, anatabine, and cotinine on intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) thresholds in rats. Results: Acute injection of nicotine produced reinforcement-enhancing (ICSS threshold-decreasing) effects at low to moderate doses, and reinforcement-attenuating/aversive (ICSS threshold-increasing) effects at high doses. Nornicotine and anabasine produced similar biphasic effects on ICSS thresholds, although with lower potency compared to nicotine. Myosmine only elevated ICSS thresholds at relatively high doses, while anatabine and cotinine did not influence ICSS thresholds at any dose. None of the alkaloids significantly influenced ICSS response latencies, indicating a lack of nonspecific motoric effects. Conclusions: These findings indicate that some minor tobacco alkaloids can either fully (nornicotine, anabasine) or partially (myosmine) mimic nicotine's addiction-related effects on ICSS, albeit at reduced potency. These findings emphasize the need for further study of the abuse potential of minor alkaloids, including evaluation of their effects when combined with nicotine and other tobacco constituents to better simulate tobacco exposure in humans. Such work is essential for informing FDA regulation of tobacco products and could also lead to the development of novel pharmacotherapies for tobacco addiction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)330-334
Number of pages5
JournalDrug and alcohol dependence
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NCI U19-CA157345 (Hatsukami, DK and Shields, PG, Co-PI; LeSage, PL) and the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation (MMRF) #07639 Translational Addiction Research Program (Harris, PI). The NIH and MMRF had no further role in study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Intracranial self-stimulation
  • Minor alkaloids
  • Nicotine
  • Non-nicotine tobacco constituents
  • Rat


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