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Keywords:

  • Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF);
  • corticosterone;
  • craving;
  • drug-seeking behavior;
  • extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK);
  • incentive motivation

ABSTRACT

Environmental enrichment (EE) during a period of forced abstinence attenuates incentive motivational effects of cocaine-paired stimuli. Here we examined whether EE during forced abstinence from cocaine self-administration would prevent time-dependent increases in cue-elicited cocaine-seeking behavior (i.e. the incubation effect). Rats were trained to self-administer cocaine, which was paired with light/tone cues, for 15 days while living in isolated conditions (IC). Controls received yoked saline infusions. Subsequently, rats were assigned to live in either continued IC or EE for either 1 or 21 days of forced abstinence prior to a test for cocaine-seeking behavior. During testing, responding resulted only in presentation of the light/tone cues. Contrary to our prediction, cocaine-seeking behavior increased over time regardless of living condition during abstinence; however, EE attenuated cocaine-seeking behavior relative to IC regardless of length of abstinence. Brains were harvested and trunk blood was collected immediately after the 60-minute test and later assayed. Results indicated that short-term EE elevated hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor and reduced plasma corticosterone compared with IC. Furthermore, 21 days of EE during forced abstinence prevented increases in the cue-elicited amygdala phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase expression that was observed in IC rats. These findings suggest that EE attenuates incentive motivational effects of cocaine cues through a mechanism other than preventing the incubation effect, perhaps involving reduction of stress and neural activity in response to cocaine-paired cues during acute withdrawal.