Temporal pattern of cocaine intake determines tolerance vs sensitization of cocaine effects at the dopamine transporter

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013 Nov;38(12):2385-92. doi: 10.1038/npp.2013.136. Epub 2013 May 30.


The dopamine transporter (DAT) is responsible for terminating dopamine (DA) signaling and is the primary site of cocaine's reinforcing actions. Cocaine self-administration has been shown previously to result in changes in cocaine potency at the DAT. To determine whether the DAT changes associated with self-administration are due to differences in intake levels or temporal patterns of cocaine-induced DAT inhibition, we manipulated cocaine access to produce either continuous or intermittent elevations in cocaine brain levels. Long-access (LgA, 6 h) and short-access (ShA, 2 h) continuous self-administration produced similar temporal profiles of cocaine intake that were sustained throughout the session; however, LgA had greater intake. ShA and intermittent-access (IntA, 6 h) produced the same intake, but different temporal profiles, with 'spiking' brain levels in IntA compared with constant levels in ShA. IntA consisted of 5-min access periods alternating with 25-min timeouts, which resulted in bursts of high responding followed by periods of no responding. DA release and uptake, as well as the potency of cocaine for DAT inhibition, were assessed by voltammetry in the nucleus accumbens slices following control, IntA, ShA, and LgA self-administration. Continuous-access protocols (LgA and ShA) did not change DA parameters, but the 'spiking' protocol (IntA) increased both release and uptake of DA. In addition, high continuous intake (LgA) produced tolerance to cocaine, while 'spiking' (IntA) produced sensitization, relative to ShA and naive controls. Thus, intake and pattern can both influence cocaine potency, and tolerance seems to be produced by high intake, while sensitization is produced by intermittent temporal patterns of intake.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage*
  • Cocaine / metabolism
  • Cocaine / pharmacology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / drug effects*
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / administration & dosage*
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Drug Tolerance
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Self Administration
  • Synapses / drug effects*
  • Time Factors


  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Cocaine
  • Dopamine