Amphetamine-Induced Incentive Sensitization of Sign-Tracking Behavior in Adolescent and Adult Female Rats

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Age-specific behavioral and neural characteristics may predispose adolescents to initiate and escalate use of alcohol and drugs. Adolescents may avidly seek novel experiences, including drugs of abuse, because of enhanced incentive motivation for drugs and natural rewards, perhaps especially when that incentive motivation is sensitized by prior drug exposure. Using a Pavlovian conditioned approach (PCA) procedure, sign-tracking (ST) and goal-tracking (GT) behavior was examined in amphetamine-sensitized and control adolescent and adult female Sprague–Dawley rats, with expression of elevated ST behavior used to index enhanced incentive motivation for reward-associated cues. Rats were first exposed to a sensitizing regimen of amphetamine injections (3.0 mg/kg/ml d-amphetamine per day) or given saline (0.9% wt/vol) once daily for 4 days. Expression of ST and GT was then examined over 8 days of PCA training consisting of 25 pairings of an 8-s presentation of an illuminated lever immediately followed by response-independent delivery of a banana-flavored food pellet. Results showed that adults clearly displayed more ST behavior than adolescents, reflected via both more contacts with, and shorter latencies to approach, the lever. Prior amphetamine sensitization increased ST (but not GT) behaviors regardless of age. Thus, when indexed via ST, incentive motivation was found to be greater in adults than adolescents, with a prior history of amphetamine exposure generally sensitizing incentive motivation for cues predicting a food reward regardless of age.

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