Reinstated ethanol-seeking in rats is modulated by environmental context and requires the nucleus accumbens core

Eur J Neurosci. 2008 Dec;28(11):2288-98. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2008.06517.x.


The reinstatement of ethanol (EtOH)-seeking induced by an EtOH-predictive light-tone stimulus is enhanced in an environment associated with prior EtOH self-administration (SA) compared with a context associated with EtOH unavailability (Tsiang & Janak, 2006). Here we hypothesized that EtOH-seeking would be elicited by the conditioned sensory stimulus properties of EtOH and that this reinstatement would be similarly modulated by context. We also determined whether pharmacologically inactivating the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a key structure in relapse circuitry, would attenuate reinstated EtOH-seeking. Rats lever-pressed for oral EtOH (10% v/v) in operant conditioning chambers distinguished by specific visual, olfactory and tactile stimuli. Responding was then extinguished by withholding EtOH in a different context. EtOH-seeking, expressed as elevated responding without EtOH delivery, was subsequently tested by presenting an oral EtOH prime (two aliquots of 0.1 mL EtOH) in either the extinction or the prior EtOH-SA context. Rats received a microinfusion (0.3 microL/hemisphere) of saline or GABA agonists (muscimol/baclofen) into the NAc core or shell immediately before the reinstatement test. Robust EtOH-seeking was observed in the prior EtOH-SA but not the extinction context in saline-pretreated rats. This effect was significantly attenuated by inactivating the NAc core but not shell. Conversely, NAc shell inactivation significantly elevated lever-pressing in the extinction context. These data suggest that the sensory stimulus properties of oral EtOH can reinstate EtOH-seeking when experienced in the appropriate context and that functional activity in the NAc core is required for this effect. In contrast, the shell may normally inhibit incorrect behavioral responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol-Induced Disorders, Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology
  • Cues
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Environment*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / drug effects
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology
  • GABA Agonists / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Microinjections
  • Neural Inhibition / drug effects
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Recurrence
  • Self Administration
  • Sensation / drug effects*
  • Sensation / physiology
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • GABA Agonists
  • Ethanol
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid