The contribution of α4β2 and non-α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors to the discriminative stimulus effects of nicotine and varenicline in mice

Fernando B. de Moura, Lance R. McMahon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Scopus citations


Rationale: The extent to which non-α4β2 versus α4β2* nAChRs contribute to the behavioral effects of varenicline and other nAChR agonists is unclear. Objectives: The purpose of this study was to characterize the discriminative stimulus effects of varenicline and nicotine using various nAChR agonists and antagonists to elucidate possible non-α4β2 nAChR mechanisms. Methods: Separate groups of male C57BL/6J mice were trained to discriminate varenicline (3.2 mg/kg) or nicotine (1 mg/kg). Test drugs included mecamylamine; the nAChR agonists epibatidine, nicotine, cytisine, varenicline, and RTI-102; the β2-containing nAChR antagonist dihydro-β-erythroidine (DHβE); the α7 nAChR agonist PNU-282987; the α7 antagonist methyllycaconitine (MLA); the α3β4 antagonist 18-methoxycoronaridine (18-MC); and the non-nAChR drugs midazolam and cocaine. Results: In nicotine-trained mice, maximum nicotine-appropriate responding was 95% nicotine, 94% epibatidine, 63% varenicline, 58% cytisine, and less than 50% for RTI-102, PNU-282987, midazolam, and cocaine. In varenicline-trained mice, maximum varenicline-appropriate responding was 90% varenicline, 86% epibatidine, 74% cytisine, 80% RTI-102, 50% cocaine, and 50% or less for nicotine, PNU-282987, and midazolam. Drugs were studied to doses that abolished operant responding. Mecamylamine antagonized the discriminative stimulus effects, but not the rate-decreasing effects, of nicotine and varenicline. DHβE antagonized the discriminative stimulus and rate-decreasing effects of nicotine but not varenicline in either the nicotine or varenicline discrimination assays. The discriminative stimulus, but not the rate-decreasing, effects of epibatidine were antagonized by DHβE regardless of the training drug. Conclusions: These results suggest that α4β2* nAChRs differentially mediate the discriminative stimulus effects of nicotine and varenicline, and suggest that varenicline has substantial non-α4β2 nAChR activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
StateAccepted/In press - Dec 27 2016



  • DHβE
  • Drug discrimination
  • Mecamylamine
  • Nicotine
  • Varenicline
  • β2 nAChRs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology

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