Apomorphine sensitization: evoking conditions, context dependence, effect persistence and conditioned nature

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When repeatedly administered a dose of apomorphine (Apo), pigeons, much like rodents, show behavioural sensitization. In birds this sensitization expresses itself as an increasing pecking response to the drug and is found to be partially dependent on the environmental context in which Apo takes effect. In the first experiment we examined what effect different inter-Apo administration intervals have on the development of Apo sensitization and found that, with some smaller variations, intervals between 3 hours and 5 days all yielded comparable courses of sensitization. In the second experiment we examined how long pigeons had to be exposed to the same distinct cage to reveal a maximal context-dependent sensitization. Pigeons were therefore repeatedly injected with Apo and consistently placed in an experimental cage for different lengths of time (5 to 60 min; the overall drug effect lasted for about 1 h) before being returned to their standard home cages. Subsequent tests in the experimental cage and a standard cage showed that 20-min post-injection exposures were sufficient to yield a maximal response in the experimental cage. After training with 20- and 60-min exposures, the pigeons pecked about three times more in the experimental cage than in the standard cage. This confirmed the marked context dependency of the sensitization effect. In the third experiment, groups of pigeons were injected repeatedly with Apo and directly afterwards placed either consistently into the same experimental cage or into different experimental cages. The same-cage group evidenced a significantly much stronger sensitization than the different-cage group. A cage-habituation group served as a control for the possibility that the weaker sensitization of the different-cage group might be due to a cage novelty effect. This cage-habituation group was run under the same conditions as the different-cage group but with additional exposures to the crucial cage while injected with saline. This extra treatment did not augment the pecking response to Apo in that cage. In the fourth experiment we examined how long the sensitization to Apo lasts and found that, even after 2 years of drug abstinence, it only waned to 50% of the original asymptotic response. The overall results support the hypothesis that a very major part of the sensitization to Apo in pigeons is due to a conditioning to the environmental context and to the drug state itself.

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