Environmental enrichment protects against the acquisition of cocaine self-administration in adult male rats, but does not eliminate avoidance of a drug-associated saccharin cue

Matthew D. Puhl, Joshua S. Blum, Stefany Acosta-Torres, Patricia S. Grigson

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38 Scopus citations


One of the most menacing consequences of drug addiction is the devaluation of natural rewards (e.g. food, sex, work, money, caring for one's offspring). However, evidence also suggests that natural rewards, such as an enriched environment, can devalue drugs of abuse. Thus, this study used a rodent model to test whether exposure to an enriched environment could protect adult rats from acquiring cocaine self-administration and from the resultant drug-induced devaluation of a natural saccharin reward cue. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were implanted with intravenous jugular catheters. Rats were then separated into two housing conditions: an enriched condition, including social companions(four/cage) and novel objects (e.g. balls, polyethylene tubes, paper, etc.), and a nonenriched condition where the rats were singly housed with no novel objects. During testing, the rats were given 5-min access to 0.15% saccharin, followed by 1 h to self-administer saline or cocaine (0.167 mg/infusion) on fixed ratio and progressive ratio schedules of reinforcement. The results showed that rats that were singly housed in the nonenriched environment fell into two groups: low drug-takers (n=34) and high drug-takers (n=12). In comparison, only one out of the 22 rats housed in the enriched environment was a high drug-taker. Thus, all rats in the enriched environment, except one, behaved like low drug-takers under the nonenriched condition. As such, these rats self-administered almost no drug on either the fixed ratio or the progressive ratio schedule of reinforcement and were extremely slow to self-administer their first cocaine infusion. Interestingly, despite their very low levels of drug self-administration, low-drug-taking rats housed in the enriched environment continued to avoid intake of the drug-associated saccharin cue. Taken together, these data suggest that the enriched environment itself served as a salient natural reward that reduced cocaine seeking and cocaine taking, but had little impact on avoidance of the cocaine-paired taste cue. The protective effects of the enriched environment were robust and, as such, have important implications for the methods used in the study of drug addiction in animal models and for the prevention, and possibly the treatment, of the disease in adult humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-53
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioural Pharmacology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2012


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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