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Novelty lures rats from cocaine-paired settings, hinting at new treatments for recovering addicts
Date:2/1/2010

ternating placements helped researchers counteract rats' natural tendency to spend more time in unfamiliar places, and equalize the time they spent in each context.

Finally, to test whether novelty could still compete with drug-linked cues, drug-free rats were placed between compartments to see where they would go. Rats that had been trained on 7.5 and 20, but not 30, cocaine milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of weight and then given novel objects spent equal time on both sides. That is, they went back and forth between the places they had experienced both cocaine and novelty. Rats that did not receive the novel objects spent more time where they had experienced the effects of cocaine.

Drugged rats that had been trained on 7.5 mg/kg of cocaine and then given novel objects also gave both sides equal attention. However, rats that had been trained on 20 or 30 mg/kg of cocaine and then given novel objects still preferred the cocaine-paired over the novelty side.

Given the results of the drug-free tests, the findings suggested that employing something new and intriguing could work with drug-free, recovering addicts who are mild but not heavy users, the authors wrote.

In a second experiment, the researchers repeated the procedure with just one dose of cocaine, 10 mg/kg of weight, to test the effect's staying power one, 14 or 28 days after establishing the preference for the cocaine-paired side. Two weeks later, novelty still changed compartment choice for drug-free rats. Four weeks later, however, none of the rats showed a particular preference for either compartment.

"We identified a window of opportunity for conditioned rewards to compete for control over choice behavior," at least among rats, the authors wrote.

By understanding how long and how well novelty can compete with the allure of addicting drugs, researchers may start to consider using it in the real world. The human equivalent of new "toys" such as scuba d
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