Sensitivity to food and cocaine cues are independent traits in a large sample of heterogeneous stock rats

Sci Rep. 2021 Jan 26;11(1):2223. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-80798-w.


Sensitivity to cocaine and its associated stimuli ("cues") are important factors in the development and maintenance of addiction. Rodent studies suggest that this sensitivity is related, in part, to the propensity to attribute incentive salience to food cues, which, in turn, contributes to the maintenance of cocaine self-administration, and cue-induced relapse of drug-seeking. Whereas each of these traits has established links to drug use, the relatedness between the individual traits themselves has not been well characterized in preclinical models. To this end, the propensity to attribute incentive salience to a food cue was first assessed in two distinct cohorts of 2716 outbred heterogeneous stock rats (HS; formerly N:NIH). We then determined whether each cohort was associated with performance in one of two paradigms (cocaine conditioned cue preference and cocaine contextual conditioning). These measure the unconditioned locomotor effects of cocaine, as well as conditioned approach and the locomotor response to a cocaine-paired floor or context. There was large individual variability and sex differences among all traits, but they were largely independent of one another in both males and females. These findings suggest that these traits may contribute to drug-use via independent underlying neuropsychological processes.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Cocaine*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Locomotion / physiology
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Cocaine