Relapse to opioid seeking in rat models: behavior, pharmacology and circuits

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019 Feb;44(3):465-477. doi: 10.1038/s41386-018-0234-2. Epub 2018 Oct 6.


Lifetime relapse rates remain a major obstacle in addressing the current opioid crisis. Relapse to opioid use can be modeled in rodent studies where drug self-administration is followed by a period of abstinence and a subsequent test for drug seeking. Abstinence can be achieved through extinction training, forced abstinence, or voluntary abstinence. Voluntary abstinence can be accomplished by introducing adverse consequences of continued drug self-administration (e.g., punishment or electric barrier) or by introducing an alternative nondrug reward in a discrete choice procedure (drug versus palatable food or social interaction). In this review, we first discuss pharmacological and circuit mechanisms of opioid seeking, as assessed in the classical extinction-reinstatement model, where reinstatement is induced by reexposure to the self-administered drug (drug priming), discrete cues, discriminative cues, drug-associated contexts, different forms of stress, or withdrawal states. Next, we discuss pharmacological and circuit mechanisms of relapse after forced or voluntary abstinence, including the phenomenon of "incubation of heroin craving" (the time-dependent increases in heroin seeking during abstinence). We conclude by discussing future directions of preclinical relapse-related studies using opioid drugs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain* / drug effects
  • Brain* / physiopathology
  • Craving* / drug effects
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Extinction, Psychological* / drug effects
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Recurrence
  • Reward*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome* / physiopathology