Traumatic brain injury substantially reduces the conditioned reinforcing effects of environmental cues in rats.
Traumatic brain injury affects millions of people each year and is an established risk factor for addiction. Recent animal studies have causally demonstrated that injuries can increase drug self-administration across a variety of substances. One potential behavioral mediator for this finding is an increased responsivity to drug-associated cues. This endophenotype can be identified by profiling non-drug-related behaviors. The current study evaluated several paradigms (conditioned approach, conditioned reinforcement, extinction from variable interval responding, conditioned facilitation) to determine how rats with a frontal TBI differed in their response to Pavlovian conditioning in response to food-paired cues. Surprisingly, rats with a TBI demonstrated increased goal-tracking in a conditioned approach paradigm and exerted less effort for a conditioned reinforcer. Moreover, they had slightly facilitated extinction (as demonstrated by significantly larger interresponse times) in the face of reinforcer-associated cues. Despite these effects, TBI rats still demonstrated conditioned facilitation to an auditory stimulus. Together, these effects suggest a phenotype in the opposite direction of what might be anticipated. Cues still served a strong discriminative function and altered behavior; however, they did not function as strong conditioned reinforcers for TBI animals. One potential reason for this is that substantial changes to the dopamine system after TBI may reduce the conditioned reinforcing effects of cues, but sensitize the brain to potent drugs of abuse. More research will be needed to determine whether this is the case.Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.