Haloperidol blocks the acquisition but not the retrieval of a conditioned sensitization to apomorphine

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The dopamine agonist apomorphine (apo) elicits stereotyped pecking bouts in pigeons, a response which increases with successive apo injections. The present study sought, first, to confirm the hypothesis that this sensitization arises through a Pavlovian conditioning driven by both external and internal cues; and, secondly, to advance the hypothesis that during this learning the dopaminergic activation only initiates a process that probably ends in glutamatergic synapse modifications. The conditioned nature of the sensitization to apo was examined in two separate experiments that compared context contingent and context uncontingent apo treatments. The role of dopaminergic mechanisms in the acquisition, maintenance and retrieval of sensitization-conditioned pecking was examined by administering the dopamine antagonist haloperidol (hal) either before, during or after apo sensitization treatments. A contingency between context and apo was found to be essential for the acquisition and retrieval of apo-sensitized pecking. A pretreatment with hal did not curtail a subsequent sensitization to apo. When hal was co-administrated with apo it suppressed the initial pecking response to apo and blocked the acquisition of sensitized responding. A pecking response normally observed when apo-sensitized pigeons are challenged with saline (sal) in the same cage in which they were sensitized, was also absent. When hal was co-administered with apo after the sensitization was complete this led at first to an only partial apo response suppression. When treated with hal in the same cage, already sensitized pigeons responded much as if they had been challenged with sal. The sensitization induced by apo was thus blocked by hal co-administered during acquisition, but during the maintenance or retrieval phase hal did not impair a previously sensitized responding. It is concluded that when pigeons are sensitized to apo, dopaminergic mechanisms are implicated in initiating the neural modifications that underlie the conditioned sensitization, but that they themselves are not importantly altered.

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