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Incentive salience attribution, “sensation-seeking” and “novelty-seeking” are independent traits in a large sample of male and female heterogeneous stock rats

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There are a number of traits that are thought to increase susceptibility to addiction, and some of these are modeled in preclinical studies. For example, "sensation-seeking" is predictive of the initial propensity to take drugs; whereas "novelty-seeking" predicts compulsive drug-seeking behavior. In addition, the propensity to attribute incentive salience to reward cues can predict the propensity to approach drug cues, and reinstatement or relapse, even after relatively brief periods of drug exposure. The question addressed here is the extent to which these three 'vulnerability factors' are related; that is, predictive of one another. Some relationships have been reported in small samples, but here a large sample of 1,598 outbred male and female heterogeneous stock rats were screened for Pavlovian conditioned approach behavior (to obtain an index of incentive salience attribution; 'sign-tracking'), and subsequently tested for sensation-seeking and novelty-seeking. Despite the large N there were no significant correlations between these traits, in either males or females. There were, however, novel relationships between multiple measures of incentive salience attribution and, based on these findings, we generated a new metric that captures "incentive value". Furthermore, there were sex differences on measures of incentive salience attribution and sensation-seeking behavior that were not previously apparent.

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