Original Investigations


, Volume 102, Issue 3, pp 364-372

First online:

Increased sensitivity to amphetamine and reward-related stimuli following social isolation in rats: possible disruption of dopamine-dependent mechanisms of the nucleus accumbens

  • G. H. JonesAffiliated withDepartment of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge
  • , C. A. MarsdenAffiliated withDepartment of Physiology and Pharmacology, Medical School, Queen's Medical Centre
  • , T. W. RobbinsAffiliated withDepartment of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge

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These experiments compared isolation-reared and socially-reared rats in two complementary paradigms for measuring responding to signals of reward, both undrugged and following either systemic or intraaccumbensd-amphetamine (AMPH). In experiment 1, locomotor activity conditioned to food presentation was measured in rats exposed to a restricted feeding schedule. The interaction between this conditioned activity, AMPH administration (0.5, 2.0, 3.5, 5.0 mg/kg IP) and motivational state was measured. In experiment 2, hungry rats were trained to associate a compound light/noise stimulus with sucrose reward and were then implanted with guide cannulae in the nucleus accumbens. In the test phase, responding on one of two novel levers produced the compound stimulus (conditioned reinforcer; CR). Responses on the other lever had no effect. Each rat received four counterbalanced intra-accumbens infusions of AMPH (0, 3, 10, 20 µg). In both experiments, isolated rats responded more with stimuli associated with reward and this differential rearing effect was further exaggerated by AMPH. The isolation-induced sensitivity to these stimuli and to AMPH was critically dependent on motivational variables. Thus, in experiment 1 there were no differences between the groups when sated or during extinction and in experiment 2 the increased responding was restricted to the lever providing CR. Measurements of the locomotor response to intra-accumbens AMPH (0, 3, 10 µg) also revealed that isolated rats were more sensitive to a low dose of the drug when tested food-deprived in a relatively novel environment. These results suggest that the experience of isolation-rearing interacts either directly or indirectly with dopamine-dependent mechanisms of the nucleus accumbens to enhance the effects of reward-related stimuli.

Key words

Social isolation Conditioned reinforcement Conditioned activity Dopamine Nucleus accumbens