Cues (conditioned stimuli; CSs) associated with rewards can come to motivate behavior, but there is considerable individual variation in their ability to do so. For example, a lever-CS that predicts food reward becomes attractive and wanted, and elicits reward-seeking behavior, to a greater extent in some rats ('sign-trackers'; STs) than others ('goal-trackers'; GTs). Variation in dopamine (DA) neurotransmission in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) core is thought to contribute to such individual variation. Given that the DA transporter (DAT) exerts powerful regulation over DA signaling, we characterized the expression and function of the DAT in the accumbens of STs and GTs. STs showed greater DAT surface expression in ventral striatal synaptosomes than GTs, and ex vivo fast-scan cyclic voltammetry recordings of electrically evoked DA release confirmed enhanced DAT function in STs, as indicated by faster DA uptake, specifically in the NAc core. Consistent with this, systemic amphetamine (AMPH) produced greater inhibition of DA uptake in STs than in GTs. Furthermore, injection of AMPH directly into the NAc core enhanced lever-directed approach in STs, presumably by amplifying the incentive value of the CS, but had no effect on goal-tracking behavior. On the other hand, there were no differences between STs and GTs in electrically-evoked DA release in slices, or in total ventral striatal DA content. We conclude that greater DAT surface expression may facilitate the attribution of incentive salience to discrete reward cues. Investigating this variability in animal sub-populations may help explain why some people abuse drugs while others do not.
Keywords: Sprague-Dawley rat; amphetamine; conditioning; sign-tracking; voltammetry.
© 2015 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.