The motivation to self-administer is increased after a history of spiking brain levels of cocaine

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Jul;37(8):1901-10. doi: 10.1038/npp.2012.37. Epub 2012 Mar 28.


Recent attempts to model the addiction process in rodents have focused on cocaine self-administration procedures that provide extended daily access. Such procedures produce a characteristic loading phase during which blood levels rapidly rise and then are maintained within an elevated range for the duration of the session. The present experiments tested the hypothesis that multiple fast-rising spikes in cocaine levels contribute to the addiction process more robustly than constant, maintained drug levels. Here, we compared the effects of various cocaine self-administration procedures that produced very different patterns of drug intake and drug dynamics on Pmax, a behavioral economic measure of the motivation to self-administer drug. Two groups received intermittent access (IntA) to cocaine during daily 6-h sessions. Access was limited to twelve 5-min trials that alternated with 25-min timeout periods, using either a hold-down procedure or a fixed ratio 1 (FR1). Cocaine levels could not be maintained with this procedure; instead the animals experienced 12 fast-rising spikes in cocaine levels each day. The IntA groups were compared with groups given 6-h FR1 long access and 2-h short access sessions and two other control groups. Here, we report that cocaine self-administration procedures resulting in repeatedly spiking drug levels produce more robust increases in Pmax than procedures resulting in maintained high levels of cocaine. These results suggest that rapid spiking of brain-cocaine levels is sufficient to increase the motivation to self-administer cocaine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage
  • Cocaine / pharmacokinetics
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Motivation / drug effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reinforcement Schedule
  • Self Administration / methods
  • Self Administration / psychology*


  • Cocaine