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Nicotine is a psychomotor stimulant with ‘reinforcement enhancing’ effects — the actions of nicotine in the brain increase responding for non-nicotine rewards. We hypothesized that this latter effect of nicotine depends on increased incentive properties of anticipatory cues; consistent with this hypothesis, multiple laboratories have reported that nicotine increases sign tracking, i.e. approach to a conditioned stimulus (CS), in Pavlovian conditioned-approach tasks. Incentive motivation and sign tracking are mediated by mesolimbic dopamine (DA) transmission and nicotine facilitates mesolimbic DA release. Therefore, we hypothesized that the incentive-promoting effects of nicotine would be impaired by DA antagonists. To test this hypothesis, separate groups of rats were injected with nicotine (0.4 mg/kg base) or saline prior to Pavlovian conditioning sessions in which a CS (30 s illumination of a light or presentation of a lever) was immediately followed by a sweet reward delivered in an adjacent location. Both saline and nicotine pretreated rats exhibited similar levels of conditioned approach to the reward location (goal tracking), but nicotine pretreatment significantly increased approach to the CS (sign tracking), regardless of type (lever or light). The DAD1 antagonist SCH-23390 and the DAD2/3antagonist eticlopride reduced conditioned approach in all rats, but specifically reduced goal tracking in the saline pretreated rats and sign tracking in the nicotine pretreated rats. The non-selective DA antagonist flupenthixol reduced sign-tracking in nicotine rats at all doses tested; however, only the highest dose of flupenthixol reduced goal tracking in both nicotine and saline groups. The reductions in conditioned approach behavior, especially those by SCH-23390, were dissociated from simple motor suppressant effects of the antagonists. These experiments are the first to investigate the effects of dopaminergic drugs on the facilitation of sign-tracking engendered by nicotine and they implicate dopaminergic systems both in conditioned approach as well as the incentive-promoting effects of nicotine.

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© 2014 Published by Elsevier Inc. This document is an author manuscript from PMC. The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior.