Sex and estrous cycle differences in cocaine-induced approach-avoidance conflict


Tod Kippin, Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9660, USA. E-mail:


Human and animal research indicates that females may have a higher biological propensity for cocaine abuse than do males. Furthermore, reproductive status modulates the subjective effects of cocaine in women and self-administration rates in rats. Despite the attention that has been given to the modulation of appetitive responses by reproductive status and the well-known mixed positive and negative subjective effects of cocaine, it is unknown if similar effects are observed on aversive responses to cocaine. The present study examines the impact of sex and estrous cycle on approach-avoidance behavior for cocaine as measured in the runway self-administration model. Male and freely cycling female Sprague Dawley rats were trained to traverse a straight alley for single daily injections of 1.0 mg/kg intravenous cocaine over 21 trials. Relative to males, females had significantly longer start latencies but significantly faster approach and shorter run times during the first week of training. Further, estrus females displayed significantly fewer approach-avoidance retreats across all sessions relative to non-estrus females. These results suggest that females initially exhibit greater motivation for cocaine (faster approach) than do males and that the drug's anxiogenic properties have a reduced impact on the motivation to seek cocaine (fewer retreats) in females during the estrus phase relative to other reproductive phases. These findings indicate that both sex and reproductive status contribute to the motivation for cocaine and that sex differences in addiction vulnerability may be attributable in part to differences in the motivational impact of both the appetitive and aversive properties of cocaine.