Opioid use disorder is a serious public health issue in the United States. Animal models of opioid dependence are fundamental for studying the etiology of addictive behaviors. We tested the hypothesis that extended access to heroin self-administration leads to increases in heroin intake and produces somatic signs of opioid dependence in both male and female mice. Adult C57BL/6J mice were trained to nosepoke (fixed-ratio 1) to obtain intravenous heroin in six daily 1-h sessions (30-60 μg/kg/infusion). The mice were divided into short access (ShA; 1 h) and long access (LgA; 6 h) groups. Immediately after the 10th escalation session, the mice received a challenge dose of naloxone (1 mg/kg), and somatic signs of withdrawal were recorded. The mice readily acquired intravenous heroin self-administration. LgA mice escalated their drug intake in the first hour across sessions and had significantly higher scores of somatic signs of naloxone-precipitated opioid withdrawal compared with ShA mice. Female mice exhibited increases in heroin intake compared with male mice. Male and female mice exhibited similar levels of somatic signs of withdrawal. Because of the wide availability of genetically modified mouse lines, the present mouse model may be particularly useful for better understanding genetic and sex differences that underlie the transition to compulsive-like opioid taking and seeking.
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