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Repeated Cocaine Exposure Facilitates the Expression of Incentive Motivation and Induces Habitual Control in Rats

  • Author(s): LeBlanc, KH
  • Maidment, NT
  • Ostlund, SB
  • et al.
Abstract

There is growing evidence that mere exposure to drugs can induce long-term alterations in the neural systems that mediate reward processing, motivation, and behavioral control, potentially causing the pathological pursuit of drugs that characterizes the addicted state. The incentive sensitization theory proposes that drug exposure potentiates the influence of reward-paired cues on behavior. It has also been suggested that drug exposure biases action selection towards the automatic execution of habits and away from more deliberate goal-directed control. The current study investigated whether rats given repeated exposure to peripherally administered cocaine would show alterations in incentive motivation (assayed using the Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT) paradigm) or habit formation (assayed using sensitivity to reward devaluation). After instrumental and Pavlovian training for food pellet rewards, rats were given 6 daily injections of cocaine (15 mg/kg, IP) or saline, followed by a 10-d period of rest. Consistent with the incentive sensitization theory, cocaine-treated rats showed stronger cue-evoked lever pressing than saline-treated rats during the PIT test. The same rats were then trained on a new instrumental action with a new food pellet reward before undergoing a reward devaluation testing. Although saline-treated rats exhibited sensitivity to reward devaluation, indicative of goal-directed performance, cocaine-treated rats were insensitive to this treatment, suggesting a reliance on habitual processes. These findings, when taken together, indicate that repeated exposure to cocaine can cause broad alterations in behavioral control, spanning both motivational and action selection processes, and could therefore help explain aberrations of decision-making that underlie drug addiction. © 2013 LeBlanc et al.

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