Background: Recent research has demonstrated that aerobic exercise can attenuate craving for drugs of abuse and reduce escalation and reinstatement of drug-seeking behavior in animal models. The present study examined the effects of aerobic exercise on the development of the incubation of cocaine-seeking behavior or the progressive increase in cocaine seeking over a protracted withdrawal period from cocaine self-administration.
Methods: Female rats were trained to self-administer cocaine (0.4 mg/kg/inf) during daily 6-h sessions for 10 days. Subsequently, access to cocaine and cocaine-paired cues was discontinued during a 3- or 30-day withdrawal period when rats had access to either a locked or unlocked running wheel. At the end of the withdrawal period, rats were reintroduced to the operant conditioning chamber and reexposed to cocaine-paired cues to examine cocaine-seeking behavior under extinction conditions.
Results: Rats with access to a locked running wheel during 30 days of withdrawal had significantly greater cue-induced cocaine-seeking behavior than rats that had access to an unlocked running wheel for 30 days. Further, there was robust incubation of cocaine seeking in rats with access to a locked running wheel as cocaine seeking was notably elevated at 30 vs. 3 days of withdrawal. However, cocaine-seeking behavior did not differ between rats with access to an unlocked running wheel for 30 vs. 3 days, indicating that incubation of cocaine seeking was suppressed following access to exercise for 30 days.
Conclusion: Aerobic exercise during extended withdrawal from cocaine self-administration decreased incubation of cue-induced cocaine-seeking behavior and may reduce vulnerability to relapse.