Affective responses in cocaine-experienced rats reveal cue-induced drug craving and cocaine reward magnitude
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The development and persistence of cocaine dependence are greatly influenced by emotional affect and cocaine associative learning. Cocaine is known to enhance nucleus accumbens (NAcc) dopamine, serve as a positive reinforcer and produce negative effects, such as anxiety that may influence cocaine intake behavior. In the first study, I investigated the effects of the anxiolytic, diazepam on NAcc dopamine levels and cocaine self-administration behavior. These are two factors associated with cocaine rewarding effects. Diazepam has no effect on NAcc dopamine, but affects cocaine self-administration. This supports the notion that decreasing the anxiogenic effects of cocaine increases the rewarding value in a dopamine independent manner. Therefore, increasing the aversive effects of cocaine might be a novel approach to fight cocaine dependence. In the second study, I studied cocaine-induced associative learning and changes in affect during cocaine conditioning and extinction. 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) in rats are thought to reflect positive affect and occur upon appetitive stimuli and with cocaine delivery. First, I explored whether USVs might be elicited in anticipation of impending drug delivery. Shortly into conditioning, rats elicited USVs when placed in the cocaine-associated environment. USVs progressively increased, indicating a growing learned association between cocaine intake and cocaine-associated cues. This suggests that USVs may be a useful model for investigating cocaine craving and serve as a pharmacological target for interventions aimed to reduce cocaine craving and relapse. I then examined the effects of short-term deprivation of cocaine and cocaine cues on cocaine-conditioned USVs, which were both exaggerated after abstinence. The results may have clinical implications, in that intermittently avoiding cues or context may enhance drug cue salience and increase the probability of relapse. Motivational aspects of cocaine were assessed comparing commonly measured lever response rate and locomotion with cocaine-induced USVs during cocaine administration and extinction. In agreement with prevailing findings, lever responding for cocaine and cocaine-induced locomotor activity increased across conditioning sessions. However, the number of USVs evoked in response to cocaine infusion decreased with cocaine experience. These findings suggest growing tolerance to the rewarding properties of cocaine. These studies underscore the value of USV assessment during drug dependence studies.