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Alterations in the striatal dopamine system during intravenous methamphetamine exposure: Effects of contingent and noncontingent administration


Correspondence to: William P. Melega; Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA. E-mail:


The continuing spread of methamphetamine (METH) abuse has stimulated research aimed at understanding consequences of its prolonged exposure. Alterations in nigrostriatal dopamine (DA) system parameters have been characterized in experimental studies after discontinuation of long-term METH but fewer studies have included similar assessments during METH exposure. Here, we report METH plasma pharmacokinetics and striatal DA system alterations in rat after noncontingent and contingent METH administration for 7.5 weeks. Escalating METH exposure was delivered by dynamic infusion (DI) that incorporated a “humanized” plasma METH half life or by intravenous self-administration (IVSA) that included binge intakes. Kinetic modeling of DI and IVSA for 24 h periods during the final week of METH exposure showed that plasma METH levels remained between 0.7 and 1.5 µM. Animals were sacrificed during their last METH administration for autoradiography assessment using [3H]ligands and D2 agonist-induced [35S]GTPγS binding. DA transporter binding was decreased (DI, 34%; IVSA, 15%) while vesicular monoamine transporter binding and substantia nigra DA cell numbers were unchanged. Decreases were measured for D2 receptor (DI and IVSA, 15–20%) and [35S]GTPγS binding (DI, 35%; IVSA, 18%). These similar patterns of DI and IVSA associated decreases in striatal DA markers reflect consequences of cumulative METH exposure and not the drug delivery method. For METH IVSA, individual differences were observed, yet each animal's total intake was similar within and across three 24-h binges. IVSA rodent models may be useful for identifying molecular mechanisms that are associated with METH binges in humans. Synapse 67:476–488, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.