Blockade of NMDA receptors blocks the acquisition of cocaine conditioned approach in rats

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Conditioned stimuli (CSs) exert motivational effects on both adaptive and pathological reward-related behaviors, including drug taking and seeking. We developed a paradigm that allows us to investigate the neuropharmacology by which previously neutral stimuli acquire the capacity to function as CSs and elicit (intravenous) cocaine conditioned approach and used this paradigm to test the role of NMDA receptor stimulation in the acquisition of cocaine conditioned approach. Rats were injected systemically with the NMDA receptor antagonist, MK-801, before the start of 4 consecutive conditioning sessions, each of which consisted of 20 randomly presented light/tone (CS) presentations paired with cocaine infusion contingent upon nose pokes. Rats later were subjected to a CS-only test. To test the role of NMDA receptor stimulation in the already established conditioned approach, rats were injected with MK-801 prior to the CS-only test that occurred after 18 CS-cocaine conditioning sessions. Blockade of NMDA receptors significantly impaired the acquisition of cocaine-conditioned approach as indicated by the emission of significantly fewer nose pokes and significantly longer latencies to nose poke during CS presentations. When MK-801 treatment was applied after the acquisition of conditioned approach responding it had no effect on these measures. These results suggest that NMDA receptor stimulation plays an important role in the acquisition of reward-related conditioned responses driven by intravenous cocaine-associated CSs.

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