Rationale: Incubation of craving is a phenomenon whereby responding for cues associated with a reward increases over extended periods of abstinence. Both contingent and non-contingent behavioral designs have been used to study the incubation of craving phenomenon with differing results. The present study directly compares behavioral and neural changes following contingent or non-contingent administration of chocolate flavored pellets. Objective: The current study examined whether an incubation of craving response would be observed at the behavioral and neural levels following delays of abstinence from chocolate pellets in a contingent or non-contingent reinforcement design. Methods: Rats were trained for 10 days to bar press for chocolate pellets (contingent) or received chocolate pellets in a non-contingent design (classical conditioning). Groups were then subjected to abstinence from the reward for 24 h, 7, 14 or 28 days at which point they were tested for responding for reward associated cues. Following the test, brains from all rats were processed and assessed for c-Fos and FosB labeling as well as dendritic spine density in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Results: Behavioral measures during the test (lever presses, food hopper entries and locomotor activity) revealed similar behavioral outcomes across all delays indicating the lack of an incubation of craving response on both the contingent and non-contingent designs. Overall, labeling of c-Fos in the NAc was lower for the non-contingent group compared to the operant-trained and food restricted control. Compared to the operanttrained and non-trained control groups, a significantly reduced FosB labeling was noted in the NAc of the classically conditioned groups across all abstinence periods. Spine density in the NAc was elevated in both the classically and operant conditioned compared to the food-restricted, non-trained controls. Conclusions: Chocolate pellet reward did not result in incubation of craving but did produce behavioral learning that was associated with increased spine density. This suggests that chocolate pellet administration results in long-term structural and functional changes that are present for at least 28 days following abstinence. Contingent and non-contingent administration resulted in differential immediate early gene labeling in the NAc, but the functional significance of this has yet to be elucidated.
Noye Tuplin, E. W., Lightfoot, S. H. M., & Holahan, M. R. (2018). Comparison of the time-dependent changes in immediate early gene labeling and spine density following abstinence from contingent or non-contingent chocolate pellet delivery. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00144