Are you a mother? If so, research presented at SfN suggests that you are less likely to develop a drug addiction problem. Behavioral research from the Becker lab at U Michigan-Ann Arbor has shown that motherhood alters a female rat’s response to cocaine in a way that attenuates (i.e. dampens) her drug abuse liability. For example, the group found that virgin rats will not only press a lever more readily to self-administer cocaine via brain infusion, but they will also escalate (or increase their drug take) during the first week of cocaine use. In contrast, rat mothers having the maternal experience of rearing at least one litter maintain a steady level of self-administration. Moreover, virgin rats are willing to expend more energy and press the lever over 70 times to receive a single cocaine infusion, suggesting that they are willing to work harder to receive the drug even when it is challenging to obtain.
So why do these virgin rats go crazy for cocaine? In order to answer this question, the group used microdialysis, a procedure in which a probe can be inserted into a specific brain area in order to collect extracellular fluid including neurotransmitters and metabolites, to examine cocaine-induced dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens after an injection of cocaine in virgin rats and mother rats having NO prior experience with cocaine.Using this technique, they were able to show that virgin rats release significantly more dopamine in response to cocaine than females that have had a least a litter, suggesting that the same dose of cocaine has less of an effect (i.e., is less reinforcing) female rats that have been mothers before. Thus, these data indicate that mothers are less susceptible to the effects of cocaine than virgins.
This research was presented on October 15, 2012 by J.A. Cummings as a short talk titled: Maternal experience protects female rats against drug abuse liability.
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