Potentiated startle as a measure of the negative affective consequences of repeated exposure to nicotine in rats

Jeffrey M. Engelmann, Anna K. Radke, Jonathan C. Gewirtz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Rationale: Elevated acoustic startle amplitude has been used to measure anxiety-like effects of drug withdrawal in humans and animals. Withdrawal from a single opiate administration has been shown to produce robust elevations in startle amplitude ("withdrawal-potentiated startle") that escalate in severity with repeated exposure. Although anxiety is a clinical symptom of nicotine dependence, it is currently unknown whether anxiety-like behavior is elicited during the early stages of nicotine dependence in rodents. Objective: The objective of this study is to examine whether, as is the case with opiates, single or repeated exposure to nicotine can produce withdrawal-potentiated startle. Methods: Rats received daily nicotine injections for 14 days, and startle amplitude was tested during spontaneous withdrawal on injection days 1, 7, and 14. Results: Elevated startle responding was observed during nicotine withdrawal on days 7 and 14 but not on day 1, was greater at higher nicotine doses, and was reduced by a nicotine replacement injection given during an additional test session on day 15. Additional experiments demonstrated that nicotine withdrawal-potentiated startle was reduced by the α2- adrenergic agonist clonidine and that precipitated withdrawal-potentiated startle could not be induced by injection of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antagonist mecamylamine. Conclusions: These results suggest that nicotine withdrawal escalates in severity across days, similar to the previously reported escalation of opiate withdrawal-potentiated startle. Potentiated startle may be a reliable measure of withdrawal from different classes of abused drugs and may be useful in the study of the early stages of drug dependence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-25
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was supported by NIH T32-HD007151, P50-DA13333, DA018784, and the University of Minnesota. We thank Drs. Andrew Harris and Mark LeSage for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript and Kiran Kanth for assistance with data collection.


  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Nicotine
  • Sensitization
  • Startle
  • Withdrawal

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