Reduction of nicotine content in tobacco products is a regulatory control strategy intended to decrease smoking dependence, and is hypothesized to produce gradual reductions of nicotine intake. Rats were initially trained to self-administer 0.06 mg/kg/infusion nicotine (Phase 1), which was followed by a threshold procedure to determine nicotine demand via a behavioral economics (BE) paradigm (Phase 2). Rats then either self-administered the training dose (high dose group), or were switched to a low dose of nicotine (0.001 mg/kg/infusion; low dose group) in Phase 3. Both groups then underwent a second threshold procedure and demand curves were re-determined (Phase 4). In Phase 5, responding for nicotine was extinguished over the course of 21 sessions. Cue-induced reinstatement was then evaluated (Phase 6). Rats in the low dose group maintained a steady amount of infusions, and thus, did not compensate for nicotine reduction. Rats in the low dose group also showed similar demand elasticity and nicotine seeking (Phase 6) compared to the high dose group, indicating that nicotine reduction did not decrease nicotine demand or seeking. Further, both groups displayed resistance to extinction, indicating that nicotine reduction did not facilitate extinction learning. These results suggest that although compensation of intake does not occur, decreasing the dose of nicotine does not alter nicotine reinforcement value or relapse vulnerability. Further, these results indicate persistence of nicotine-motivated behavior after self-administration of a low nicotine dose. Translationally, these results suggest that alternative strategies may be needed to achieve positive smoking cessation outcomes.
Nicotine reduction does not alter essential value of nicotine or reduce cue-induced reinstatement of nicotine seeking