Prolonged exposure of rats to varenicline increases anxiety and alters serotonergic system, but has no effect on memory

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Varenicline is a drug used for smoking addiction cessation treatment and acts as a partial agonist of nicotinic cholinergic receptors. Recent clinical trial data support use of varenicline for treatment of conditions/addictions that are not related to smoking cessation. Considering the importance of this issue and the need for new studies on its effects, especially on behavior, more studies using animal models are necessary. Thus, the aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of prolonged exposure to varenicline in anxiety-like behavior and memory, as well as in cerebral neurochemistry of rats. Male rats received three different doses of varenicline: 0.03 (therapeutic dose for humans), 0.1 and 0.3?mg/kg orally (gavage) for 30?days. Animal behavior was analyzed through open field, elevated plus maze, light/dark box, social interaction, Barnes maze and novel object recognition tests. Neurotransmitter levels and their metabolites in different brain structures (hippocampus, striatum and frontal cortex) were measured. Results showed that prolonged exposure of rats to varenicline: 1) did not interfere in motor activity, but caused an anxiogenic effect on elevated plus maze, light/dark box and social interaction testes; 2) did not alter memory; and 3) promoted alterations on serotoninergic system in the striatum and frontal cortex. In conclusion, compilation of the data indicates that prolonged exposure of rats to varenicline promoted anxiogenic effects and alteration in serotonergic system, which corroborated behavioral findings.
Zaccarelli-Magalhães J, Sandini TM, Abreu GR, Petrocelli BM, Moreira N, Reis-Silva TM, et al. Prolonged exposure of rats to varenicline increases anxiety and alters serotonergic system, but has no effect on memory. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2019 Jun;181;1-8. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2019.03.009.
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