Neurochemical Effects of Cocaine in Adolescence Compared to Adulthood

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Neural basis of behavior, Drugs of abuse: cocaine

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Adolescence is a time of high risk behavior and increased exploration. This developmental period is marked by a greater probability to initiate drug use and is associated with an increased risk to develop addiction and adulthood dependency. Human adolescents are predisposed toward an increased likelihood of risk taking behaviors [M. Zuckerman, Sensation-seeking and the endogenous deficit theory of drug abuse. NIDA Res Monogr. 74 (1986) 59-70.], including drug use or initiation. In the present study, adolescent and adult animals were first tested on several behavioral measures (novel environment exploratory behavior, novel object preference, novelty-induced impulsivity and novelty-induced exploration) which were used to categorize them as high- (HR) or low-responders (LR). The purpose of the present study was to characterize the neurochemical responsivity of the nucleus accumbens septi (NAcc) in HR and LR adolescent and adult animals in response to a systemic challenge of cocaine. Regardless of age, animals that were more reactive when placed in a novel environment had greater cocaine-induced increases in dopamine (DA). Several important and complex neurochemical differences existed between adolescent and adult animals. Adolescent animals that rapidly approached the novel object (i.e., HR) were the only group to show greater cocaine-induced responsivity. However, adult animals that spent less time near the novel object (i.e., LR) were the only group to have greater cocaine-induced responsivity. Adolescent animals that approached a novel object faster (HR) showed an increased dopaminergic (DAergic) response to an acute cocaine challenge. In contrast, adolescent animals that spent less time with the novel object had an increased cocaine-induced DAergic response compared to HR adults. Adults that approached the object less had a greater cocaine-induced DA response relative to HR adults. Finally, cocaine yielded a greater DA response in adolescent animals that showed a high novelty-induced exploration and impulsivity response, whereas the opposite was true for adults. The differences in response to cocaine between ages and groups are likely due to ontogeneticdifferences in brain regions that are involved in reward and/or stress responsivity.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Developmental Brain Research, v. 159, issue 2, p. 119-125