Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology

Drug specificity in drug versus food choice in male rats.

PMID 24886157


Although different classes of drug differ in their mechanisms of reinforcement and effects on behavior, little research has focused on differences in self-administration behaviors maintained by users of these drugs. Persistent drug choice despite available reinforcement alternatives has been proposed to model behavior relevant to addiction. The present study used a within-subjects procedure, where male rats (Long-Evans, N = 16) were given a choice between cocaine (1.0 mg/kg/infusion) and food (a single 45-mg grain pellet) or between heroin (0.02 mg/kg/infusion) and food in separate phases (drug order counterbalanced). All rats were initially trained to self-administer each drug, and the doses used were based on previous studies showing that small subsets of rats tend to prefer drug over food reinforcement. The goal of the present study was to determine whether rats that prefer cocaine would also prefer heroin. Choice sessions consisted of 2 forced-choice trials with each reinforcer, followed by 14 free-choice trials (all trials separated by 10-min intertrial interval). Replicating previous results, small subsets of rats preferred either cocaine (5 of the 16 rats) or heroin (2 of the 16 rats) to the food alternative. Although 1 of the 16 rats demonstrated a preference for both cocaine and heroin to the food alternative, there was no relationship between degree of cocaine and heroin preference in individual rats. The substance-specific pattern of drug preference observed suggests that at least in this animal model, the tendencies to prefer cocaine or heroin in preference to a nondrug alternative are distinct behavioral phenomena.