Prior studies have shown that drug-seeking behaviors increase, rather than dissipate, over weeks to months after withdrawal from drug self-administration. This phenomenon - termed incubation - suggests that drug-craving responses elicited by conditioned environmental or discrete cues may intensify over pronged abstinence. While most of this work is conducted in rats with intravenous drug self-administration models, there is less evidence for incubation in mice that have greater utility for molecular genetic analysis and perturbation. We tested whether incubation of cocaine-seeking behavior is evident in C57BL/6J mice following 3 weeks (5 days/week) of cocaine self-administration in 2 h self-administration sessions. We compared cocaine-seeking (drug-paired lever) responses 1, 7, or 28 days after withdrawal from cocaine self-administration, and over similar times following sucrose pellet self-administration. We found that the initial re-exposure to the self-administration test chambers elicited increased reward-seeking behavior in both sucrose and cocaine self-administering mice, with maximal responses found at 7 days compared to 1 or 28 days after self-administration with either reinforcer. However, following extinction training, reinstatement of cocaine seeking reinforced by response-contingent presentation of reward-associated cues (tone/light) was significantly higher after 28 days compared to 1 or 7 days following cocaine self-administration. In contrast, cue-induced reinstatement of sucrose-paired lever pressing did not increase over this time frame, demonstrating a drug-specific incubation effect not seen with a natural reward. Thus, C57BL/6J mice display incubation of cue-induced reinstatement of cocaine seeking similar to findings with rats, but only show a transient incubation of context-induced cocaine seeking.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
ALN, EMA, EBL, and DWS have no disclosures/conflicts of interest to declare. This work was supported by NIH grant DA-10460, T32-DA7290, and by the Wesley Gilliland Professorship in Biomedical Research. Beyond this, the authors declare that, except for income received from the primary employer, no financial support or compensation has been received from any individual or corporate entity over the past 3 years for research or professional service, and there are no personal financial holdings that could be perceived as constituting a potential conflict of interest.
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- Cue-induced reinstatement