The role of contextual versus discrete drug-associated cues in promoting the induction of psychomotor sensitization to intravenous amphetamine Academic Article uri icon


  • The environmental context in which psychostimulant drugs are administered can have a large effect on both their acute psychomotor activating effects and their ability to induce the psychomotor sensitization associated with repeated drug administration. For example, the acute effects of amphetamine and the development of psychomotor sensitization to amphetamine and cocaine are enhanced when they are administered in a distinct and relatively novel test environment, relative to when they are given in the home cage, in the absence of any environmental stimuli predictive of drug administration. The experiments reported here were designed to further examine this phenomenon and to test the hypothesis that the ability of a distinct context to promote robust psychomotor sensitization is due to its ability to reliably signal (cue) drug administration. Specifically, we compared the ability of contextual cues (a distinct test environment) and discrete cues (light, tone and/or odor), which both reliably predict drug administration, to promote the induction of sensitization. The psychomotor stimulant effects (rotational behavior) of repeated intravenous infusions of 0. 5 mg/kg amphetamine were assessed in rats for whom drug treatments were signaled either: (1) by placement into a distinct test environment; (2) by presentation of discrete cues; or (3) rats for whom drug treatments were given in the home environment in the absence of any environmental cues. Amphetamine produced robust sensitization when given in association with placement into a distinct test environment. The same treatment failed to produce sensitization when the drug was given unsignaled in the animal's home cage. Most importantly, signaling drug administration by presenting discrete cues was not sufficient to promote the robust sensitization seen when treatments were given in a distinct test environment. These results confirm that the induction of psychomotor sensitization can be powerfully modulated by environmental context and further establish that, although contextual stimuli associated with a distinct test environment promote robust sensitization, discrete cues that merely predict drug administration do not have this property. Possible reasons for the difference in the ability of contextual versus discrete environmental cues to promote sensitization are discussed.

author list (cited authors)

  • Crombag, H. S., Badiani, A., Maren, S., & Robinson, T. E.

citation count

  • 120

publication date

  • November 2000