Rationale: Conditioned behavioral responses to discrete drug-associated cues can be modulated by the environmental context in which those cues are experienced, a process that may facilitate relapse in humans. Rodent models of drug self-administration have been adapted to reveal the capacity of contexts to trigger drug seeking, thereby enabling neurobiological investigations of this effect.
Objectives: We tested the hypothesis that dopamine transmission in the nucleus accumbens, a neural structure that mediates reinforcement, is necessary for context-induced reinstatement of responding for ethanol-associated cues.
Methods: Rats pressed one lever (active) for oral ethanol (0.1 ml; 10% v/v) in operant conditioning chambers distinguished by specific visual, olfactory, and tactile contextual stimuli. Ethanol delivery was paired with a discrete (4 s) light-noise stimulus. Responses on a second lever (inactive) were not reinforced. Behavior was then extinguished by withholding ethanol but not the discrete stimulus in a different context. Reinstatement, expressed as elevated responding for the discrete stimulus without ethanol delivery, was tested by placing rats into the prior self-administration context after administration of saline or the dopamine D1 receptor antagonist, SCH 23390 (0.006, 0.06, and 0.6 microg/side), into the nucleus accumbens core or shell.
Results: Compared with extinction responding, active lever pressing in saline-pretreated rats was enhanced by placement into the prior ethanol self-administration context. SCH 23390 dose-dependently reduced reinstatement after infusion into the core or shell.
Conclusion: These findings suggest a critical role for dopamine acting via D1 receptors in the nucleus accumbens in the reinstatement of responding for ethanol cues triggered by placement into an ethanol-associated context.