Second-order schedules of drug self-administration in animals
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On a second-order schedule, a subject responds according to one schedule (the unit schedule) for a brief presentation of a stimulus such as a light. Responding by the subject on this unit schedule is then reinforced according to another schedule of reinforcement. Second-order schedules of drug injection allow the study of more complex behavioral sequences than do simple schedules and may more accurately reflect the human drug-abuse situation. Much of the early work in this area used primates as subjects and focused on the behavioral variables controlling responding. It was shown that long sequences of behavior could be maintained on second-order schedules with relatively infrequent injections of drug and that the second-order, brief-stimulus presentations were critical to the acquisition and maintenance of responding. Also, the continued presentation of the brief stimulus in extinction often led to prolonged extinction behavior. These studies clearly showed that environmental stimuli greatly influence drug self-administration behavior under second-order schedules. The focus of much of the more recent work with second-order schedules has been on the evaluation of pharmacological treatments for drug addiction, both as antagonist and substitution therapies. Both types of potential therapies have shown promise in these preclinical models of addictive behavior. The recent extension of second-order self-administration studies to rats as subjects has facilitated the investigation of neural mechanisms involved in this behavior. While this use of second-order schedules is a relatively recent phenomenon, significant contributions have already been made in identifying neural mechanisms critical to second-order schedule drug self-administration. This active area of research holds great promise for delineating specific brain regions critical to different aspects of drug addiction.
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