Nicotine chronic tolerance development and withdrawal in the planaria (Schmidtea mediterranea)


• Planaria were exposed to different concentrations of nicotine during 10 days.
• Tests measured motility under nicotine with and without cues paired with nicotine.
• We saw tolerance to nicotine, but no conditioned compensatory responses.
• Mecamylamine attenuated the effect of nicotine and blocked tolerance.
• The results are consistent with a habituation explanation of tolerance.


Chronic nicotine exposure reduces sensitivity to the effects of nicotine, which then results in behavioural changes and tolerance development. In the planaria, a valuable first-stage preclinical model for addictive behaviour, acute nicotine administration has been shown to steadily alter the motility of the animals, a result that has been interpreted as evidence of tolerance and withdrawal effects; however, chronic exposure - typically regarded as a condition for the development of tolerance - and the role of the contextual cues have not been systematically assessed. The present study assessed the acute and chronic effects of nicotine on the motility of planarians (Schmidtea mediterranea). The animals in the experimental groups received long chronic exposure to nicotine (ten daily 30 min exposures); a control group was exposed to water in the same context but in the absence of the drug. The motility of the animals was closely monitored on every exposure. Following this phase, all the animals were subject to three different tests: in the presence of the exposure context (without the drug, Test 1); in the presence of nicotine in the exposure context (Test 2); and in the presence of the drug in a novel context (Test 3). Exposure to nicotine consistently reduced motility; the motility in the presence of nicotine increased with repeated exposures to the drug, an instance of tolerance development. Tolerance development was dependent on nicotinic receptor activation, because it was blocked by the co-administration of mecamylamine. However, this tolerance was found to be independent of the contextual cues where the effects of the drug had been experienced. The results are discussed by reference to the existent theories of tolerance development to drugs.


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