The development of a preference for cocaine over food identifies individual rats with addiction-like behaviors

PLoS One. 2013 Nov 18;8(11):e79465. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0079465. eCollection 2013.


Rationale: Cocaine dependence is characterized by compulsive drug taking that supercedes other recreational, occupational or social pursuits. We hypothesized that rats vulnerable to addiction could be identified within the larger population based on their preference for cocaine over palatable food rewards.

Objectives: To validate the choice self-administration paradigm as a preclinical model of addiction, we examined changes in motivation for cocaine and recidivism to drug seeking in cocaine-preferring and pellet-preferring rats. We also examined behavior in males and females to identify sex differences in this "addicted" phenotype.

Methods: Preferences were identified during self-administration on a fixed-ratio schedule with cocaine-only, pellet-only and choice sessions. Motivation for each reward was probed early and late during self-administration using a progressive-ratio schedule. Reinstatement of cocaine- and pellet-seeking was examined following exposure to their cues and non-contingent delivery of each reward.

Results: Cocaine preferring rats increased their drug intake at the expense of pellets, displayed increased motivation for cocaine, attenuated motivation for pellets and greater cocaine and cue-induced reinstatement of drug seeking. Females were more likely to develop cocaine preferences and recidivism of cocaine- and pellet-seeking was sexually dimorphic.

Conclusions: The choice self-administration paradigm is a valid preclinical model of addiction. The unbiased selection criteria also revealed sex-specific vulnerability factors that could be differentiated from generalized sex differences in behavior, which has implications for the neurobiology of addiction and effective treatments in each sex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cocaine
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Sex Factors


  • Cocaine