Drug-free and context-dependent locomotor hyperactivity in DBA/2 J mice previously treated with repeated cocaine: Relationship with behavioral sensitization and role of noradrenergic receptors

Luján, Miguel A.; Colomar, Laura; Tarragón, Ernesto; Lopez-Cruz, Laura; Pastor, Raúl and Font, Laura (2019). Drug-free and context-dependent locomotor hyperactivity in DBA/2 J mice previously treated with repeated cocaine: Relationship with behavioral sensitization and role of noradrenergic receptors. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 176 pp. 101–110.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pbb.2018.12.004

Abstract

Drug-associated contexts and discrete cues can trigger motivational states responsible for drug-seeking behavior and relapse. In preclinical research, drug-free conditioned hyperactivity has been used to investigate the expression of memories associated with psychostimulant drug effects. Addictive drugs can produce long-lasting sensitization to their psychomotor actions, a phenomenon known as behavioral sensitization. The neuroplasticity underlying behavioral sensitization appears to be involved in pathological drug pursuit and abuse. In the present study we evaluated drug-free, context-dependent hyperactivity in DBA/2 J mice previously treated with cocaine and we explored whether this conditioned effect was related to behavioral sensitization. Given the role of noradrenergic (NA) neurotransmission in memory retrieval, consolidation and reconsolidation processes, we also investigated whether conditioned hyperactivity in a drug-free state was mediated by NA receptors. Animals underwent a sensitization protocol with six cocaine injections (0, 5, 10 or 20 mg/kg) paired to a particular floor cue. Three days after this sensitization phase, all animals were exposed to the same familiar floor environment without drug treatment. A second test with an unfamiliar floor was conducted 24 h later. Conditioned hyperactivity was also explored after one or three cocaine pairings and was evaluated for its duration (with repeated familiar vs. unfamiliar floor tests). In a series of pharmacological experiments, we evaluated the effects propranolol (a non-selective antagonist of β1- and β2-receptors) and prazosin (α1-receptor antagonist) on conditioned hyperactivity. Cocaine treatment produced both robust sensitization and drug-free conditioned hyperactivity, an effect that lasted up to 17 days (with cocaine 20 mg/kg). A significant correlation between the magnitude of cocaine sensitization and the level of conditioned hyperactivity was found. Propranolol, but not prazosin, blocked context-dependent hyperlocomotion in a drug-free state. Our data, together with a vast body of literature, indicate that the NA system plays a key role in the retrieval and behavioral expression of drug-associated memories.

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