Neuroreport. 2014 Jun 18;25(9):688-92. doi: 10.1097/WNR.0000000000000157.
Environment enrichment conditions have important consequences on subsequent vulnerability to drugs of abuse. The present work examined whether exposure to an enriched environment (EE) decreases oral self-consumption of nicotine. Wistar rats were housed either in a standard environment (SE, four rats per standard cage) or in an EE during 60 days after weaning. EE consisted of eight animals housed in larger cages containing a variety of objects such as boxes, toys, and burrowing material that were changed three times a week.
After this period, animals were exposed to nicotine for 3 weeks, where animals chose freely between water and a nicotine solution (0.006% in water). Fluid consumption was evaluated on a daily basis. ΔFosB immunohistochemistry in the prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens was also performed.
Rats of the EE group consumed less nicotine solution (0.25±0.04 mg/kg/day) than SE rats (0.54±0.05 mg/kg/day). EE increased the number of ΔFos-immunoreactive (ΔFos-ir) cells in the nucleus accumbens core and shell and in the prefrontal cortex, compared with animals in the standard condition.
However, rats exposed to nicotine in the SE showed higher ΔFos-ir cells in the nucleus accumbens core and shell than nonexposed rats. Nicotine consumption did not modify ΔFos-ir cells in these brain areas in EE animals. These results support the idea of a possible protective effect of the EE on reward sensitivity and the development of an addictive behavior to nicotine.