Clinical evidence indicates a frequent co-morbidity of nicotine and alcohol abuse and dependence. The posterior ventral tegmental area (pVTA) appears to support the reinforcing and dopamine-stimulating effects of both drugs.
The current study tested the hypothesis that repeated exposure of the pVTA to one drug would increase the sensitivity of local dopamine neurons to the stimulating effects of the other drug.
Female Wistar rats received repeated daily microinjections of either 100 μM nicotine or vehicle directly into the pVTA for 7 days. On the 8th day, rats received microinjections of either vehicle or ethanol (100 or 200 mg%) into the pVTA while extracellular dopamine samples were collected from the ipsilateral nucleus accumbens shell (NACsh) with microdialysis. Another experiment tested the effects of challenge microinjections of 200 μM nicotine in the pVTA on extracellular dopamine levels in the NACsh following 7 daily pretreatments with 200 mg% ethanol in the pVTA.
Nicotine pretreatments increased the dopamine-stimulating effects of ethanol in the pVTA (100 mg% ethanol: 115% vs 160% of baseline in the vehicle and nicotine groups, respectively, p < 0.05; 200 mg% ethanol: 145% vs 190% of baseline in the vehicle and nicotine groups, respectively, p < 0.05).
In contrast, ethanol pretreatments did not alter the stimulating effects of nicotine in the pVTA.
The results suggest that repeated exposure of the pVTA to nicotine increased the response of local dopamine neurons to the stimulating effects of ethanol, whereas repeated exposure of the pVTA to ethanol did not alter the responses of pVTA dopamine neurons to nicotine.
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