Pharmacokinetics trumps pharmacodynamics during cocaine choice: a reconciliation with the dopamine hypothesis of addiction

Ludivine Canchy, Paul Girardeau, Audrey Durand, Caroline Vouillac-Mendoza, Serge H. Ahmed
Preprint biorxiv. 2020-05-22; :
DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.20.106096

Cocaine is known to increase brain dopamine at supranormal levels in comparison to alternative nondrug rewards. According to the dopamine hypothesis of addiction, this difference would explain, at least in part, why the latter are eventually given up in favor of continued cocaine use during the transition to addiction. Though resting on solid neuroscientific foundations, this hypothesis has nevertheless proven difficult to reconcile with research on cocaine choice in experimental animals. When facing a choice between an intravenous bolus of cocaine and a nondrug alternative (e.g., sweet water), both delivered immediately after choice, rats do not choose the drug, as would be predicted, but instead develop a strong preference for the nondrug alternative, sometimes to the exclusion of continued drug use. Here we report converging evidence that reconciles this finding with the dopamine hypothesis of addiction. Briefly, our data suggest that cocaine is indeed supranormal in reward magnitude, as postulated by the dopamine hypothesis of addiction, but is less preferred during choice because its pharmacokinetics makes it an inherently more delayed reward than the alternative. Reframing previous drug choice studies in rats as intertemporal choice studies reveals that the discounting effects of delays spare no rewards, including supranormal ones, and that during choice, pharmacokinetics trumps pharmacodynamics. Finally, this study also reveals important gaps in our understanding of drug reward delays that need to be filled by future experimental and theoretical work.

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