Age of exposure-dependent effects of amphetamine on behavioral flexibility

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Drug use typically begins during adolescence, which is a period of ongoing neurobiological development that may confer heightened vulnerability to develop drug dependence. Previously, our lab has shown that amphetamine (AMPH)-induced deficits in a medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC)-sensitive working memory task are greater in rats exposed to the drug during adolescence compared to adulthood. Here, we examine potential age-dependent effects of AMPH exposure on behavioral flexibility tasks that are sensitive to disruptions in mPFC and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) function. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were injected (i.p.) with saline or 3 mg/kg AMPH every other day between postnatal days (PNDs) 27–45 and PNDs 85–103. Starting around PND 125, rats were tested in an attentional set-shifting task and a subset of those was then tested in an operant strategy shifting task. Following completion of the operant task, rats were challenged with 3 mg/kg AMPH and monitored in open field chambers. Our results demonstrate that AMPH-exposed rats were faster to acquire simple and compound discriminations, but were impaired during the first stimulus-reward reversal when compared to controls. In the operant strategy shifting task, adolescent-exposed rats shifted more rapidly between strategies and completed reversals faster than adult-exposed and control rats, respectively. The final AMPH challenge revealed evidence for sensitization in drug pre-exposed rats, with adult-exposed animals exhibiting the most significant effects. Together, these results suggest that AMPH induces long-lasting changes in behavioral flexibility that are at least partially dependent on age of exposure and may be due to adaptations in OFC function.

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