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Context-Induced Relapse to Alcohol Seeking After Punishment in a Rat Model

      Background

      Rat studies have demonstrated that exposure to environments associated with alcohol intake reinstates alcohol seeking after extinction of alcohol-reinforced responding in a different context. However, extinction is limited as an abstinence model, because humans typically abstain because of negative consequences associated with excessive drinking. It is currently unknown whether alcohol-associated contexts can provoke relapse to alcohol seeking after alcohol-taking behavior is suppressed by adverse consequences in a different context.

      Methods

      Alcohol-preferring P rats were first given home-cage access to 20% ethanol. Next, they were trained to self-administer 20% ethanol in one context (context A). Subsequently, all rats continued to self-administer alcohol in a different context (context B). For one group, 50% of alcohol-reinforced responses were punished by mild footshock; two other groups either received noncontingent shocks or no shock. A fourth group was given extinction training in context B. All rats were then tested for relapse to alcohol seeking under extinction conditions in contexts A and B.

      Results

      In Context B, alcohol-taking behavior was suppressed by contingent shock (punishment) and extinction training but not by noncontingent shock. In Context A, relapse to alcohol seeking was reliably observed in the punished and extinction groups; a context switch had no effect on alcohol seeking in the no-shock or noncontingent shock groups.

      Conclusions

      Our data indicate that punishment-induced suppression of alcohol-taking behavior is context-dependent. We propose that our procedure can be used to explore mechanisms of context-induced relapse to alcohol seeking after alcohol-taking behavior is suppressed by adverse consequences.

      Key Words

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