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Chronic voluntary caffeine intake in male Wistar rats reveals individual differences in addiction-like behavior


Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world. However, there is controversy about whether becoming addicted to caffeine is possible and a lack of well-established animal models to examine caffeine consumption. The present study sought to establish a model of caffeine consumption in Wistar rats, identify different rat populations based on caffeine preference, and determine whether extended voluntary caffeine consumption produces compulsive-like caffeine intake and withdrawal symptoms. Male Wistar rats were used throughout the experiment. The optimal concentration of caffeine to maximize caffeine consumption and caffeine preference was determined. Rats were then given continuous access to caffeine, followed by intermittent access. Rats were tested for signs of withdrawal-like behavior by measuring mechanical nociception and irritability-like behavior. Rats were further examined for compulsive-like caffeine consumption using quinine adulteration. Dose-response testing indicated an optimal caffeine concentration of 0.3 mg/mL. During intermittent access to caffeine, the rats did not escalate their caffeine intake and instead exhibited a decrease in intake over sessions. Three groups of rats were identified based on caffeine preference (high, medium, and low) across continuous and intermittent access. These three groups of rats matched low (1 cup), medium (2 cups), and high (4 cups) levels of daily coffee consumption in humans. Caffeine-consuming rats did not exhibit differences in mechanical nociception or irritability-like behavior compared with controls. In high caffeine-preferring rats but not in medium or low caffeine-preferring rats, compulsive-like caffeine consumption was observed. The present study established a rodent model of caffeine consumption that resulted in large individual differences in caffeine intake, similar to humans. Compulsive-like caffeine consumption in high caffeine-preferring rats and differences in caffeine preference between groups suggest that caffeine may result in compulsive-like intake in a subpopulation of subjects. Further testing is necessary to determine the factors that contribute to differences in caffeine preference and compulsive-like intake.

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