Ethanol Exposure History and Alcoholic Reward Differentially Alter Dopamine Release in the Nucleus Accumbens to a Reward-Predictive Cue

Amanda M. Fiorenza, Tatiana A. Shnitko, Kaitlin M. Sullivan, Sudheer R. Vemuru, Alexander Gomez-A, Julie Y. Esaki, Charlotte A. Boettiger, Claudio Da Cunha, Donita L. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Conditioned stimuli (CS) that predict reward delivery acquire the ability to induce phasic dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). This dopamine release may facilitate conditioned approach behavior, which often manifests as approach to the site of reward delivery (called “goal-tracking”) or to the CS itself (called “sign-tracking”). Previous research has linked sign-tracking in particular to impulsivity and drug self-administration, and addictive drugs may promote the expression of sign-tracking. Ethanol (EtOH) acutely promotes phasic release of dopamine in the accumbens, but it is unknown whether an alcoholic reward alters dopamine release to a CS. We hypothesized that Pavlovian conditioning with an alcoholic reward would increase dopamine release triggered by the CS and subsequent sign-tracking behavior. Moreover, we predicted that chronic intermittent EtOH (CIE) exposure would promote sign-tracking while acute administration of naltrexone (NTX) would reduce it. Methods: Rats received 14 doses of EtOH (3 to 5 g/kg, intragastric) or water followed by 6 days of Pavlovian conditioning training. Rewards were a chocolate solution with or without 10% (w/v) alcohol. We used fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to measure phasic dopamine release in the NAc core in response to the CS and the rewards. We also determined the effect of NTX (1 mg/kg, subcutaneous) on conditioned approach. Results: Both CIE and alcoholic reward, individually but not together, associated with greater dopamine to the CS than control conditions. However, this increase in dopamine release was not linked to greater sign-tracking, as both CIE and alcoholic reward shifted conditioned approach from sign-tracking behavior to goal-tracking behavior. However, they both also increased sensitivity to NTX, which reduced goal-tracking behavior. Conclusions: While a history of EtOH exposure or alcoholic reward enhanced dopamine release to a CS, they did not promote sign-tracking under the current conditions. These findings are consistent with the interpretation that EtOH can stimulate conditioned approach, but indicate that the conditioned response may manifest as goal-tracking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1051-1061
Number of pages11
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Alcohol
  • Dopamine
  • Extinction
  • Naltrexone
  • Pavlovian

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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