The objective of the current study was to examine how periadolescent nicotine exposure affects dendritic morphology of medium spiny neurons from the nucleus accumbens shell. Male Long-Evans hooded rats were chronically administered nicotine or saline for a period extending from postnatal day 22 (p22) to p69. Nicotine and saline administration was via subcutaneously implanted osmotic pumps. At p144, 75 days after conclusion of nicotine administration, brains were processed for Golgi-Cox staining. Medium spiny neurons from the nucleus accumbens shell were digitally reconstructed. It was found that neurons from nicotine-treated animals possessed significantly longer dendrites and a greater number of dendritic segments than control animals. A branch order analysis indicated that differences in dendritic length and segment number were most pronounced in third and fourth order segments. A subsequent behavioral experiment suggests that the observed anatomical changes are associated with enduring psychomotor differences. These findings indicate that periadolescent exposure to nicotine can result in long-lasting structural changes in the nucleus accumbens shell and are consistent with behavioral data suggesting that adolescent nicotine exposure may result in vulnerability to nicotine addiction in adulthood.
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