A cocaine context renews drug seeking preferentially in a subset of individuals

Benjamin T. Saunders, Elizabeth G. O'Donnell, Elyse L. Aurbach, Terry E. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Addiction is characterized by a high propensity for relapse, in part because cues associated with drugs can acquire Pavlovian incentive motivational properties, and acting as incentive stimuli, such cues can instigate and invigorate drug-seeking behavior. There is, however, considerable individual variation in the propensity to attribute incentive salience to reward cues. Discrete and localizable reward cues act as much more effective incentive stimuli in some rats ('sign-trackers', STs), than others ('goal-trackers', GTs). We asked whether similar individual variation exists for contextual cues associated with cocaine. Cocaine context conditioned motivation was quantified in two ways: (1) the ability of a cocaine context to evoke conditioned hyperactivity and (2) the ability of a context in which cocaine was previously self-administered to renew cocaine-seeking behavior. Finally, we assessed the effects of intra-accumbens core flupenthixol, a nonselective dopamine receptor antagonist, on context renewal. In contrast to studies using discrete cues, a cocaine context spurred greater conditioned hyperactivity, and more robustly renewed extinguished cocaine seeking in GTs than STs. In addition, cocaine context renewal was blocked by antagonism of dopamine receptors in the accumbens core. Thus, contextual cues associated with cocaine preferentially acquire motivational control over behavior in different individuals than do discrete cues, and in these individuals the ability of a cocaine context to create conditioned motivation for cocaine requires dopamine in the core of the nucleus accumbens. We speculate that different individuals may be preferentially sensitive to different 'triggers' of relapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2816-2823
Number of pages8
Issue number12
StatePublished - Nov 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to BTS (F31 DA030801) and TER (P01 DA031656). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute on Drug Abuse or the National Institutes of Health.


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