Escalation of food-maintained responding and sensitivity to the locomotor stimulant effects of cocaine in mice

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2009 Jul;93(1):67-74. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2009.04.008. Epub 2009 Apr 17.


Escalation of drug self-administration is a consequence of extended drug access and is thought to be specifically related to addiction, but few studies have investigated whether intake of non-drug reinforcers may also escalate with extended-access. The goal of these studies was to determine the effects of limited and extended-access to food reinforcers on behavioral and pharmacological endpoints in mice. In distinct groups, responding on a lever was maintained by liquid reinforcement, or nose-poke responses were maintained by sucrose pellets or liquid food in sessions lasting 1 h (limited-access) or 10 h (extended-access). The reinforcing strength of each food, as well as reinforcer-associated cues, was tested before and after extended-access using a progressive ratio (PR) schedule, and locomotor activity in response to novelty and increasing doses of cocaine was assessed in an open field setting in all animals after access to food reinforcers. Escalation of lever-pressing behavior reinforced by liquid food, but not nose-poke behavior reinforced by liquid food or sucrose pellets, was observed across successive extended-access sessions. A concomitant increase in the reinforcing strength of liquid food and its associated cues was apparent in mice that escalated their responding, but not in mice that did not escalate. Finally, extended reinforcer access leading to behavioral escalation was accompanied by an increased sensitivity to the psychostimulant effects of cocaine compared to limited-access. These findings indicate that behavioral escalation can develop as a consequence of extended-access to a non-drug reinforcer, although both the nature of the reinforcer (liquid versus solid food) and the topography of the operant response (lever versus nose-poke) modulate its development. These data also suggest that some of the behavioral and pharmacological corrolaries of behavioral escalation observed following extended-access to drug self-administration may not be due to drug exposure, but rather, may result from basic behavioral processes which underlie operant responding maintained by appetitive stimuli.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage
  • Cocaine / toxicity*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Food
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Motor Activity / drug effects*
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Self Administration


  • Cocaine