Chronic pramipexole treatment induces compulsive behavior in rats with 6-OHDA lesions of the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area
Dopamine replacement therapy (DRT) reduces motor symptoms in Parkinson's disease (PD), but also induces impulsive–compulsive behavior (ICB) in up to 25% of PD patients. These non-motor side effects of DRT generally follow a gradual transition from impulsive to compulsive-like—i.e. repetitive, compelled, and non-pleasurable—behavior. Here, we investigated the effect of chronic pramipexole (PPX) treatment on the onset of compulsive-like behavior, measured via the post-training signal attenuation (PTSA) procedure, in rats with dopaminergic lesions. Accordingly, we aimed to mimic chronic DRT in a PD context, and obtain data on the brain regions that potentially sustain this type of compulsive behavior pattern in rats. We observed that the lesion or treatment alone did not induce compulsive lever pressing in rats. However, rats with lesions of the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area as well as with chronic PPX treatment developed strong compulsive lever-pressing behavior, as measured via PTSA. Furthermore, when chronic PPX treatment was discontinued before the PTSA test, the lesioned rats showed the same level of compulsive behavior as sham-operated rats. In fact, lesioned, treated, and compulsive-like rats showed significantly higher Fos expression in the orbitofrontal cortex and dorsal striatum. Thus, chronic PPX treatment in PD rats induced a strong compulsive-like behavior. Furthermore, Fos expression mapping suggests that the behavior was sustained via the activation of the orbitofrontal cortex and dorsal striatum.