There are substantial sex differences in drug abuse, and a key feature of cocaine addiction is pathologically high motivation for drug. We investigated the role of ovarian hormones on cocaine demand in female rats using a within-session threshold behavioral economics (BE) procedure, which allows us to compare motivation for drug across hormonal states and sex while controlling for differences in dose and intake. This approach quantifies demand elasticity (α) and free consumption (Q0, consumption at null effort) to determine motivation for cocaine. Overall, female rats showed greater motivation for cocaine compared to males. However, this difference was cycle phase-dependent - motivation for cocaine when females were in proestrus was lower compared to the same animals across cycle phases, and overall similar to that of males. Hormonal cycle phase accounted for 70% of the within-subject variance in demand elasticity, obscuring other individual differences in female demand. High serum progesterone (P4; e.g., in proestrus) predicted decreased cocaine motivation (high demand elasticity), whereas serum estradiol (E2) correlated to greater intake at null effort (Q0). However, individual differences were revealed across OVX females, who displayed a range of demand elasticity, as seen in males. E2 replacement in OVX females increased motivation for cocaine, whereas P4 replacement decreased motivation. We also found that as few as 4 weeks of cocaine self-administration accelerated estropause in female rats as young as 12 weeks old. By 13 weeks of self-administration, proestrus epochs were no longer observed, and cocaine demand was potentiated by persistent estrus in all females. Thus, P4 signaling is a key modulator of cocaine demand in females that may underlie previously observed sex differences in addiction phenotypes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Psychiatry and Mental health