Review Article | Published:

Relapse to opioid seeking in rat models: behavior, pharmacology and circuits

Neuropsychopharmacologyvolume 44pages465477 (2019) | Download Citation



Lifetime relapse rates remain a major obstacle in addressing the current opioid crisis. Relapse to opioid use can be modeled in rodent studies where drug self-administration is followed by a period of abstinence and a subsequent test for drug seeking. Abstinence can be achieved through extinction training, forced abstinence, or voluntary abstinence. Voluntary abstinence can be accomplished by introducing adverse consequences of continued drug self-administration (e.g., punishment or electric barrier) or by introducing an alternative nondrug reward in a discrete choice procedure (drug versus palatable food or social interaction). In this review, we first discuss pharmacological and circuit mechanisms of opioid seeking, as assessed in the classical extinction-reinstatement model, where reinstatement is induced by reexposure to the self-administered drug (drug priming), discrete cues, discriminative cues, drug-associated contexts, different forms of stress, or withdrawal states. Next, we discuss pharmacological and circuit mechanisms of relapse after forced or voluntary abstinence, including the phenomenon of “incubation of heroin craving” (the time-dependent increases in heroin seeking during abstinence). We conclude by discussing future directions of preclinical relapse-related studies using opioid drugs.

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We would like to thank David Epstein, Sam Golden and Marco Venniro for their comments on the manuscript and Sarah Applebey, Hannah Korah, and Trinity Russell for proofreading the manuscript.

Funding: Supported by funds to the Intramural Research Program of NIDA (Y.S.) and a National Institute of General Medical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Associate Grant 1F12GM128603 (DJR).

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  1. Behavioral Neuroscience Research Branch, IRP-NIDA-NIH, Baltimore, MD, USA

    • David J. Reiner
    • , Ida Fredriksson
    • , Olivia M. Lofaro
    • , Jennifer M. Bossert
    •  & Yavin Shaham


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