Nicotine-alcohol interactions and attentional performance on an operant visual signal detection task in female rats.
Nicotine and alcohol are very often co-used and co-abused. Thus, it is important to understand their interactions. In many ways, nicotine and alcohol have opposing effects. This can be clearly seen in terms of their effects on cognitive function. Nicotine effectively improves attention while alcohol impairs it. The current study was conducted to determine in a rat model the interaction of nicotine and alcohol on attention using an operant visual signal detection task. It is hypothesized that nicotine would reverse the alcohol-induced impairment in accuracy of performance in this task. Female Sprague-Dawley rats (N=35) were trained on a visual operant signal detection task for food reinforcement with 300 trials/session in three equal time blocks. The rats were divided into poor and good performers according to their predrug baseline performance accuracy. The first experiment examined the dose-effect function of alcohol (0, 0.375, and 0.75 g/kg i.p.) on this task. The lower alcohol dose significantly impaired percent correct rejection in the high-performing rats but not the low-performing rats. The higher alcohol dose significantly impaired percent hit performance during the first two thirds of the session in both high- and low-performing groups. The second experiment examined alcohol (0.75 g/kg i.p.) interactions with nicotine (0, 12.5, 25, and 50 microg/kg s.c.) on attentional performance. The 25 and 50 microg/kg nicotine doses caused a significant (P<.05) improvement in hit accuracy. Alcohol blocked this nicotine-induced improvement, even though at this later time it no longer had an effect of its own. In the high baseline group, the 25 microg/kg nicotine dose also caused a significant (P<.025) improvement in hit accuracy. As in Experiment 1, the high baseline group was not significantly impaired by 0.75 g/kg of alcohol. However, this alcohol dose did eliminate the nicotine-induced improvement. These results suggest that alcohol, when given alone, impairs sustained attention and blocks nicotine-induced attentional improvements even when it does not cause impairments on its own.
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