Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

Behavioral and neural substrates of habit formation in rats intravenously self-administering nicotine.

PMID 24823947


Tobacco addiction involves a transition from occasional, voluntary smoking towards habitual behavior that becomes increasingly resistant to quitting. The development of smoking habits may reflect a loss of behavioral control that can be modeled in rats. This study investigated the behavioral and neural substrates of habit formation in rats exposed to either brief (10 days) or extended (47 days) intravenous (IV) nicotine self-administration training. Following training, the first cohort of rats were exposed to a nicotine devaluation treatment, which involved repeated pairings of IV nicotine with lithium injection. They were then tested for sensitivity of responding to nicotine devaluation under extinction and reinstatement conditions. The second cohort of rats received equivalent self-administration training followed by processing of brain tissue for c-Fos immunohistochemistry. After brief training, devaluation suppressed nicotine-seeking during tests of extinction and reinstatement, confirming that responding is initially sensitive to current nicotine value, and therefore, goal directed. In contrast, after extended training, devaluation had no effect on extinction or reinstatement of responding, indicating that responding had become habitual. Complementary neuroanalysis revealed that extended nicotine self-administration was associated with increased c-Fos expression in brain regions implicated in habitual control of reward seeking, including activation of the dorsolateral striatum and substantia nigra pars compacta. These findings provide evidence of direct devaluation of an IV drug reward, that nicotine self-administration is initially goal-directed but becomes habitual with extended training, and that this behavioral transition involves activation of brain areas associated with the nigrostriatal system.