Featured Paper of the Month – August 2019.
In abstinent drug addicts, cues formerly associated with drug-taking experiences gain relapse-inducing potency (‘incubate‘) over time. Animal models of incubation may help develop treatments to prevent relapse, but these models have ubiquitously focused on the role of conditioned stimuli (CSs) signaling drug delivery. Discriminative stimuli (DSs) are unique in that they exert stimulus-control over both drug taking and drug seeking behavior and are difficult to extinguish. For this reason, incubation of the excitatory effects of DSs that signal drug availability, not yet examined in preclinical studies, could be relevant to relapse prevention. We trained rats to self-administer cocaine (or palatable food) under DS control, then investigated DS-controlled incubation of craving, in the absence of drug-paired CSs. DS-controlled cocaine (but not palatable food) seeking incubated over 60 days of abstinence and persisted up to 300 days. Understanding the neural mechanisms of this DS-controlled incubation holds promise for drug relapse treatments.