Rationale and objective: Intravenous infusions of nicotine appear to exert little primary reinforcing effects in adult rats but, instead, maintain self-administration behavior at least, in part, by increasing the intrinsic reinforcing effects of drug-paired sensory stimuli. The present study examined instead the impact of a motivationally neutral cue on self-administration. Methods: Adult male Long-Evans rats were permitted to self-administer nicotine (0.015 mg/kg IV given over 30 s, 2 h/day) or saline presented with or without a sensory stimulus (light, white noise). Fixed and progressive ratio reinforcement schedules of nicotine reinforcement were tested. Experiment 2 determined whether noncontingent nicotine or mecamylamine (nicotinic antagonist) would induce lever pressing for either sensory stimulus. Experiment 3 tested whether the white noise stimulus alone could maintain responding after repeated pairing with self-administered nicotine. Finally, the sensory stimuli were assessed for possible aversive properties. Results: Nicotine infusions alone were at best weakly reinforcing. The white noise stimulus, presented alone, was neither reinforcing nor aversive, whereas the white light appeared marginally reinforcing. Both stimuli, however, facilitated intravenous nicotine self-administration. Neither nicotine nor mecamylamine challenge rendered the white noise reinforcing. The white noise, after being self-administered with nicotine, failed to maintain self-administration behavior on its own. Conclusions: Even a motivationally neutral sensory stimulus, lacking detectable primary or secondary reinforcing properties, can facilitate self-administration of nicotine. Possibly, drug-paired stimuli provide a "response marker" or serve as a temporal bridge between the operant response and drug effect. Motivationally neutral stimuli may therefore serve to isolate primary reinforcing effects of nicotine. © 2009 Springer-Verlag.