Background: Previous studies found that environmental enrichment protects against the initiation of stimulant self-administration in rats, but it is unclear if enrichment also protects against the escalation of stimulant use with long-term exposure. Objective: The current study examined the effects of environmental enrichment on escalation of cocaine self-administration using an extended access procedure. Methods: Rats were raised from 21 days in an enriched condition (EC) with social cohorts and novel objects, a social condition with only social cohorts (SC), a novelty condition (NC) with novel objects in isolated cages, or an isolated condition (IC) without social cohorts or novel objects. In young adulthood, EC, SC, NC, and IC rats were separated into short access (ShA) or long access (LgA) groups that received either 1 or 6 h, respectively, of daily cocaine self-administration (0.1 mg/kg/infusion) for 14 days. In a second experiment, EC and IC rats were used to assess differences in acquisition and escalation of cocaine self-administration at a 0.5 mg/kg/infusion unit dose. Results: With ShA sessions, EC rats acquired cocaine self-administration at a slower rate than IC rats at both unit doses; however, with extended training, both groups eventually reached similar rates. At the 0.1 mg/kg/infusion dose, only NC and IC rats escalated in amount of intake when switched to the LgA sessions. At the 0.5 mg/kg/infusion dose, rates of cocaine self-administration escalated in LgA groups over 14 days regardless of EC or IC rearing condition; however, EC rats escalated at a faster rate, eventually reaching the same level of intake observed in IC rats. Conclusions: Although environmental enrichment protects against escalation of a low unit dose of cocaine, it may not protect against escalation with a higher unit dose. In addition, at a lower unit dose, this protective mechanism appears to be due to the presence of social cohorts rather than novel objects.
- Environmental enrichment
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