A Protocol for Measuring Cue Reactivity in a Rat Model of Cocaine Addiction

* These authors contributed equally
This article has been accepted and is currently in production


Cocaine use disorder (CUD) follows a trajectory of repetitive self-administration during which previously neutral stimuli gain incentive value. Cue reactivity, the sensitivity to cues previously linked with the drug-taking experience, plays a prominent role in human craving during abstinence. Cue reactivity can be assessed as the attentional orientation toward drug-associated cues that is measurable as appetitive approach behavior in both preclinical and human studies. Herein describes an assessment of cue reactivity in rats trained to self-administer cocaine. Cocaine self-administration is paired with the presentation of discrete cues that act as conditioned reinforcers (i.e., stimulus light, infusion pump sounds). Following a period of abstinence, lever presses in the cocaine self-administration context accompanied by the discrete cues previously paired with cocaine infusion are measured as cue reactivity. This model is useful to explore neurobiological mechanisms underlying cue reactivity processes as well as to assess pharmacotherapies to suppress cue reactivity and therefore, modify relapse vulnerability. Advantages of the model include its translational relevance, and its face and predictive validities. Thus, this model is used to identify pharmacotherapies to modify relapse vulnerability. The primary limitation of the model is that the cue reactivity task can only be performed infrequently and must only be used in short duration (e.g., 1 hour), otherwise rats will begin to extinguish the pairing of the discrete cues with the cocaine stimulus. The model is extendable to any positively reinforcing stimulus paired with discrete cues; though particularly applicable to drugs of abuse, this model may hold future applications in fields such as obesity, where palatable food rewards can act as positively reinforcing stimuli.