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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2011 Apr;214(3):769-78. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-2088-0. Epub 2010 Nov 18.

Comparison of self-administration behavior and responsiveness to drug-paired cues in rats running an alley for intravenous heroin and cocaine.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9660, USA.



Evidence suggests that responsiveness to a drug-paired cue is predicted by the reinforcing magnitude of the drug during prior self-administration. It remains unclear, however, if this principle holds true when comparisons are made across drug reinforcers.


The current study was therefore devised to test the hypothesis that differences in the animals' responsiveness to a cocaine- or heroin-paired cue presented during extinction would reflect differences in the patterns of prior cocaine and heroin runway self-administration.


Rats ran a straight alley for single intravenous injections of either heroin (0.1 mg/kg/inj) or cocaine (1.0 mg/kg/inj) each paired with a distinct olfactory cue. Animals experienced 15 trials with each drug reinforcer in a counterbalanced manner. Start latencies, run times, and retreat behaviors (a form of approach-avoidance conflict) provided behavioral indices of the subjects' motivation to seek the reinforcer on each trial. Responsiveness to each drug-paired cue was assessed after 7, 14, or 21 days of non-reinforced extinction trials. Other animals underwent conditioned place preference (CPP) testing to ensure that the two drug reinforcers were capable of producing drug-cue associations.


While both drugs produced comparable CPPs, heroin served as a stronger incentive stimulus in the runway as evidenced by faster start and run times and fewer retreats. In contrast, cocaine- but not heroin-paired cues produced increases in drug-seeking behavior during subsequent extinction trials.


The subjects' responsiveness to drug-paired cues during extinction was not predicted by differences in the motivation to seek heroin versus cocaine during prior drug self-administration.

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