Establishing preclinical withdrawal syndrome symptomatology following heroin self-administration in male and female rats

Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2021 Dec;29(6):636-649. doi: 10.1037/pha0000375. Epub 2020 Apr 16.


Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a significant health problem, and understanding mechanisms of various aspects of OUD including drug use and withdrawal is important. Preclinical models provide an ideal opportunity to evaluate mechanisms underlying opioid withdrawal. Current models are limited by their reliance upon forced opioid administration, focus on the acute (and not protracted) syndrome, and exclusion of females. In this study, male and female rats self-administered heroin (maintenance dose of 12.5 μg/kg/infusion) and opioid withdrawal after abrupt discontinuation was measured. In Phase 1, acute withdrawal symptoms were rated in male and female rats at 0, 16, 48, and 72 hr after the last self-administration session. Total somatic signs increased until 48 hr (predominantly in females), and heroin intake positively correlated with total somatic signs at the 48 and 72 hr timepoints. Measures of hyperactivity and anxiety-like behavior increased by 16 and 48 hr, respectively. In Phase 2, symptoms were assessed at baseline, acute, and protracted (168 and 312 hr after self-administration) timepoints in a subset of male and female rats from Phase 1. The total number of somatic signs did not differ across timepoints, though females displayed significantly higher body temperature at all timepoints compared with males, indicating sex-specific protracted withdrawal symptomatology. These data provide a thorough characterization of rodent opioid withdrawal symptomatology after self-administration and abrupt discontinuation that serve as a foundation for future studies designed to mimic the human experience, and demonstrate the importance of characterizing acute and protracted withdrawal with sex-specificity in preclinical models of opioid self-administration. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Heroin / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Narcotics
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Rats
  • Self Administration
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome* / drug therapy


  • Narcotics
  • Heroin