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Biol Psychiatry. 2015 May 15;77(10):895-902. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.09.004. Epub 2014 Sep 22.

Aversive stimuli drive drug seeking in a state of low dopamine tone.

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Department of Biomedical Sciences, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Electronic address:
Department of Biomedical Sciences, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.



Stressors negatively impact emotional state and drive drug seeking, in part, by modulating the activity of the mesolimbic dopamine system. Unfortunately, the rapid regulation of dopamine signaling by the aversive stimuli that cause drug seeking is not well characterized. In a series of experiments, we scrutinized the subsecond regulation of dopamine signaling by the aversive stimulus, quinine, and tested its ability to cause cocaine seeking. Additionally, we examined the midbrain regulation of both dopamine signaling and cocaine seeking by the stress-sensitive peptide, corticotropin releasing factor (CRF).


Combining fast-scan cyclic voltammetry with behavioral pharmacology, we examined the effect of intraoral quinine administration on nucleus accumbens dopamine signaling and hedonic expression in 21 male Sprague-Dawley rats. We tested the role of CRF in modulating aversion-induced changes in dopamine concentration and cocaine seeking by bilaterally infusing the CRF antagonist, CP-376395, into the ventral tegmental area (VTA).


We found that quinine rapidly reduced dopamine signaling on two distinct time scales. We determined that CRF acted in the VTA to mediate this reduction on only one of these time scales. Further, we found that the reduction of dopamine tone and quinine-induced cocaine seeking were eliminated by blocking the actions of CRF in the VTA during the experience of the aversive stimulus.


These data demonstrate that stress-induced drug seeking can occur in a terminal environment of low dopamine tone that is dependent on a CRF-induced decrease in midbrain dopamine activity.


Addiction; Cocaine; Dopamine; Relapse; Stress; Voltammetry

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