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The effects of smoking on whisker movements: a quantitative measure of exploratory behaviour in rodents

Grant, RA and Cielen, N and Maes, K and Heulens, N and Galli, G and Janssens, W and Gayan-Ramirez, G and Degens, H (2016) The effects of smoking on whisker movements: a quantitative measure of exploratory behaviour in rodents. Behavioural Processes, 128. pp. 17-23. ISSN 1872-8308

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Abstract

Nicotine, an important component of cigarette smoke, is a neurotransmitter that contributes to stress, depression and anxiety in smokers. In rodents, it increases anxiety and reduces exploratory behaviours. However, so far, the measurements of exploratory behaviour in rodents have only been semi-quantitative and lacking in sufficient detail to characterise the temporal effect of smoking cessation. As rodents, such as mice and rats, primarily use whiskers to explore their environment, we studied the effect of 3 months smoking with 1 and 2 weeks smoking cessation on whisker movements in mice, using high-speed video camera footage and image analysis. Both protraction and retraction whisker velocities were increased in smoking mice (p<0.001) and returned to normal following just one week of smoking cessation. In addition, locomotion speeds were decreased in smoking mice, and returned to normal following smoking cessation. Lung function was also impacted by smoking and remained impaired even following smoking cessation. We suggest that the increased whisker velocities in the smoking mice reflect reduced exploration and impeded tactile performance. The increase in whisker velocity with smoking, and its reduction following smoking cessation, also lends support to acetylcholine being involved in awareness, attention and alertness pathways. It also shows that smoking-induced behavioural changes can be reversed with smoking cessation, which may have implications for human smokers.

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