Varenicline serves as the training stimulus in the drug-discriminated goal-tracking task with rats: initial evaluation of potential neuropharmacological processes

Brady M. Thompson, Matthew E. Tracy, Y. Wendy Huynh, Linda P. Dwoskin, Scott T. Barrett, Rick A. Bevins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Varenicline (Chantix) is an FDA-approved smoking cessation aid that is pharmacologically similar to nicotine, the primary addictive component found within tobacco. In support of this similarity, previous drug discrimination research in rats has reported that the internal or interoceptive stimulus effects of nicotine and varenicline share stimulus elements. Those shared elements appear to be mediated, in part, by overlapping action at alpha4beta2-containing nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). The research supporting this conclusion, however, has only used nicotine, and not varenicline, as the training drug. Accordingly, we used the discriminated goal tracking (DGT) task in which 1 mg/kg varenicline signaled intermittent access to sucrose. On separate intermixed saline days, sucrose was not available. Rats acquired the discrimination as measured by a differential increase in dipper entries (goal tracking) evoked by varenicline. These rats then received a series of tests with several doses of varenicline, nicotine, nornicotine (a metabolite of nicotine and tobacco alkaloid), sazetidine-A (a partial alpha4beta2 agonist), PHA-543613 (an alpha7 agonist), and bupropion (a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor). Control of goal tracking by varenicline was dose-dependent. Nicotine and nornicotine evoked responding comparable to the varenicline training dose indicating full substitution. Sazetidine-A partially substituted for the varenicline stimulus, whereas bupropion and PHA-543613 evoked little to no varenicline-like responding. These findings indicate that varenicline can serve as the training stimulus in the DGT task. Further, stimulus control of varenicline in the DGT task is driven by its partial agonist activity at alpha4beta2-containing nAChRs. The use of this approach could lead to a better understanding of the pharmacological action of varenicline and help guide treatment geared towards tobacco cessation through a more targeted development of novel synthetically designed, subunit-specific pharmacological interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-19
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioural Pharmacology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Annals of Maxillofacial Surgery | Published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow.


  • Chantix
  • PHA-543613
  • bupropion
  • drug discrimination
  • goal tracking
  • interoceptive stimulus
  • nicotine
  • nicotinic acetylcholine receptors
  • nornicotine
  • sazetidine-A

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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