Pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC)-derived peptides and their receptors have been shown to play important roles in natural and drug-induced reward and reinforcement. Reward process may involve the regulation of POMC gene expression and the gene expression of POMC-derived peptide receptors. The present study investigated the alterations observed in the transcript levels of POMC, melanocortin 3 (MC3R), melanocortin 4 (MC4R) and mu-opioid receptors (MOR) in the hypothalamus and mesocorticolimbic system during nicotine exposure. Rats were injected subcutaneously for 5 days with one of the three doses (0.2, 0.4 or 0.6 mg/kg/day, free base) of nicotine and were decapitated one hour after a challenge dose on the sixth day. mRNA levels of POMC in the hypothalamus, MC3R in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), MC4R and MOR in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), nucleus accumbens, dorsal striatum, amygdala, lateral hypothalamic area and VTA were measured by quantitative real-time PCR. Our results showed that treatment with 0.6 mg/kg/day nicotine upregulated POMC mRNA in the hypothalamus and MC4R mRNA in the mPFC. Additionally, all three nicotine doses increased MC3R mRNA expression in the VTA. On the other hand, none of the nicotine doses altered MOR mRNA levels in the mesocorticolimbic system and associated limbic structures. These results suggest that nicotine may enhance melanocortin signaling in the mesocorticolimbic system and this alteration may be an important mechanism mediating nicotine reward. (C). 2016 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.