Drug metabolism and disposition: the biological fate of chemicals

Metabolites of nicotine in rat brain after peripheral nicotine administration. Cotinine, nornicotine, and norcotinine.

PMID 9010629


The time course of nicotine metabolite appearance in brain from 5 min-18 hr after subcutaneous administration of S-(-)-[3H-N-methyl]nicotine was determined. Results demonstrated that metabolite appearance in brain was greatest at 4 hr postadministration, whereas levels of nicotine were greatly diminished at this time point. For determination of N-demethylated metabolites, (+/-)-[2'-14C]nicotine was administered subcutaneously to rats, and the presence of nicotine and nicotine metabolites in brain supernatant was determined 4 hr postadministration. Using high-performance liquid radiochromatographic analysis, nicotine and three nicotine metabolites (cotinine, nornicotine, and norcotinine) were identified in brain, together with a fourth minor, unidentified metabolite. After subcutaneous administration of S-(-)-[G-3H]cotinine, significant amounts of cotinine were found in brain over an 18-hr postadministration period; however, no cotinine metabolites were detected. Therefore, cotinine is able to pass the blood-brain barrier and access the central nervous system, but is not biotransformed in brain. Thus, this is the first report of norcotinine as a central nervous system nicotine metabolite. Data indicate that norcotinine detected in brain after peripheral nicotine administration most likely originates from 5'-C-oxidation of brain nornicotine, rather than from N-demethylation of cotinine, as occurs peripherally. Because peripheral biotransformation of nicotine to nornicotine is a minor pathway, the relatively high levels of nornicotine found in brain after peripheral nicotine administration suggest that nornicotine is formed via oxidative N-demethylation of nicotine locally in brain. Nornicotine is pharmacologically active; thus, its presence in brain after peripheral nicotine administration indicates that nornicotine may contribute to the neuropharmacological effects of nicotine and tobacco use.