Ontogenesis of behavioral sensitization and conditioned place preference induced by psychostimulants in laboratory rodents

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2003 Jan-Mar;27(1-2):163-78. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(03)00018-6.


The present review deals mainly with the ontogenesis of two important phenomena involved in vulnerability to several neuropsychiatric disorders, namely with drug-induced sensitization (both contextual and non-contextual) and with conditioned place preference. The term 'infancy' covers the first three postnatal weeks during development in rats and mice. Conversely, the term 'adolescence' may cover the whole postnatal period ranging from weaning (PND 21) to adulthood (at least PND 60) or specifically the period around the onset of puberty (animals aged 33-44 days). Recent studies in rats demonstrated that the establishment of a context-dependent sensitization appears during the first (for repeated drug administration) or during the second (for a single drug administration) postnatal week. However, the memory of drug-context association is transient in developing pups (lasting one or two days following the drug pretreatment). The long-term retention of drug-context associations matures progressively, and is complete by the third week of postnatal life. Finally, those mechanisms responsible for an adult-like profile of context-independent pharmacological sensitization appear later during ontogenesis, being mature by the fourth week of postnatal life. Another set of experiments extended this ontogenetic characterization by comparing adolescent and adult mice. When compared to the latter, the former subjects exhibit a greater amphetamine-induced locomotor sensitization, almost no sensitization of aversive stereotyped behaviors, and a less marked place conditioning. The strength of the drug-induced place conditioning was also directly compared with the unconditioned novelty-seeking drive. In conclusion, neonatal rats are able to show a relatively short-lasting retention of sensitized drug effects (short-term sensitization), whereas the ability to exhibit relatively long-lasting sensitized effects matures progressively during infancy (long-term sensitization). On the other hand, adolescent mice show a reduced sensitization of drug-induced psychotic symptoms, together with a more marked sensitization of arousing and euphorigenic properties of the drug and a reduced incentive memory of its hedonic effects. These age-related changes do imply very different degrees of vulnerability to drug addiction and several other neuropsychiatric disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Animals, Laboratory / physiology
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects*
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Repression-Sensitization
  • Retention, Psychology / drug effects*
  • Substance-Related Disorders*


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants