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At What Stage of Neural Processing Does Cocaine Act to Boost Pursuit of Rewards?


At What Stage of Neural Processing Does Cocaine Act to Boost Pursuit of Rewards?

Hernandez, Giovanni, Breton, Yannick-André, Conover, Kent and Shizgal, Peter (2010) At What Stage of Neural Processing Does Cocaine Act to Boost Pursuit of Rewards? PLoS ONE, 5 (11). e15081. ISSN 1932-6203

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0015081


Dopamine-containing neurons have been implicated in reward and decision making. One element of the supporting evidence is that cocaine, like other drugs that increase dopaminergic neurotransmission, powerfully potentiates reward seeking. We analyze this phenomenon from a novel perspective, introducing a new conceptual framework and new methodology for determining the stage(s) of neural processing at which drugs, lesions and physiological manipulations act to influence reward-seeking behavior. Cocaine strongly boosts the proclivity of rats to work for rewarding electrical brain stimulation. We show that the conventional conceptual framework and methods do not distinguish between three conflicting accounts of how the drug produces this effect: increased sensitivity of brain reward circuitry, increased gain, or decreased subjective reward costs. Sensitivity determines the stimulation strength required to produce a reward of a given intensity (a measure analogous to the KM of an enzyme) whereas gain determines the maximum intensity attainable (a measure analogous to the vmax of an enzyme-catalyzed reaction). To distinguish sensitivity changes from the other determinants, we measured and modeled reward seeking as a function of both stimulation strength and opportunity cost. The principal effect of cocaine was a two-fourfold increase in willingness to pay for the electrical reward, an effect consistent with increased gain or decreased subjective cost. This finding challenges the long-standing view that cocaine increases the sensitivity of brain reward circuitry. We discuss the implications of the results and the analytic approach for theories of how dopaminergic neurons and other diffuse modulatory brain systems contribute to reward pursuit, and we explore the implications of the conceptual framework for the study of natural rewards, drug reward, and mood.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Psychology
Concordia University > Research Units > Centre for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology
Item Type:Article
Authors:Hernandez, Giovanni and Breton, Yannick-André and Conover, Kent and Shizgal, Peter
Journal or Publication:PLoS ONE
Date:30 November 2010
  • Canadian Institute of Health Research
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):10.1371/journal.pone.0015081
Keywords:brain stimulation reward decision making dopamine psychomotor stimulants
ID Code:7088
Deposited By: Peter Shizgal
Deposited On:22 Mar 2011 21:54
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:30
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