Sex differences in alcohol self-administration and relapse-like behavior in Long-Evans rats

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Abstract

Alcohol use disorders are a costly public health dilemma. Complicating this issue is the general lack of basic research assessing sex differences in many aspects of alcohol seeking and taking behaviors. The current experiments sought to decrease this gap in our understanding of sex differences in alcohol use disorders by assessing both male and female Long-Evans rats in parallel on alcohol self-administration, relapse-like behavior following abstinence and extinction, and motivation to respond for the standard alcohol solution and a quinine-adulterated alcohol solution. Here, we show that while males tend to have greater alcohol-reinforced responses throughout self-administration training, females show similar or greater alcohol intake (g/kg). Additionally, when tested for reinstatement of alcohol seeking and self-administration, following abstinence or extinction, males consistently showed greater reinstatement responding than females, which may be related to their training history. However, when assessed using the progressive ratio, there were no sex differences in motivation to respond for alcohol. Further, the consistent patterns of responding across months of self-administration training in both males and females, lend support for the feasibility of conducting these studies in male and female rats in parallel without concerns about daily variability. Our data also suggest that males and females should not be pooled as differences in alcohol lever responses and differences in reinstatement, as observed in the current experiments, could affect the overall outcome and possibly confound data interpretation. These studies demonstrate the importance of assessing males and females in parallel and advance the body of preclinical research on sex differences in alcohol self-administration and relapse.

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