The motivation to seek cocaine comes in part from a dysregulation of reward processing manifested in dysphoria, or affective withdrawal. Learning is a critical aspect of drug abuse; however, it remains unclear whether drug-associated cues can elicit the emotional withdrawal symptoms that promote cocaine use. Here we report that a cocaine-associated taste cue elicited a conditioned aversive state that was behaviorally and neurophysiologically quantifiable and predicted subsequent cocaine self-administration behavior. Specifically, brief intraoral infusions of a cocaine-predictive flavored saccharin solution elicited aversive orofacial responses that predicted early-session cocaine taking in rats. The expression of aversive taste reactivity also was associated with a shift in the predominant pattern of electrophysiological activity of nucleus accumbens (NAc) neurons from inhibitory to excitatory. The dynamic nature of this conditioned switch in affect and the neural code reveals a mechanism by which cues may exert control over drug self-administration.
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