SCOPE: A Translational Determination of the Mechanisms of Maladaptive Choice in Cocaine Use Disorder

Grants and Contracts Details


Cocaine use disorder (CUD) is characterized by the decision to use cocaine at the expense of other activities. Lab-based efforts to address this problem have therefore included cocaine choice self-administration procedures that incorporate a non-drug alternative to model this defining feature. Studies using these procedures have typically scheduled competing reinforcers so that the probabilities are certain. However, such deterministic outcomes are not representative of real-world scenarios in which the consequences from drug-related decisions are often unpredictable. Importantly, decision-making in a dynamic, uncertain context significantly alters the value of choice options and requires continuous updating of option values, which engages learning processes and related corticostriatal networks that might be functioning abnormally in CUD. Decision-making in dynamic environments has been successfully modeled using probabilistic reinforcement-learning choice (PRLC) tasks. The integration of these tasks with reinforcement-learning (RL) modeling has been used to capture moment-to-moment changes in the mechanisms of dynamic choice, and the application of neuroscience techniques has begun to identify the underlying neurobiology. This approach has uncovered biologically-based decision-making processes in multiple brain disorders, but has yet to be systematically applied to the experimental study of CUD, The translation of combined RL and neuroscience approaches to CUD is logical considering the maladaptive choice behavior that typifies the disorder, the varying reinforcement probabilities in cocaine users' natural environments, and the neuroadaptations and learning impairments that have been documented in individuals with CUD. Thus, there are critical gaps in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying dynamic cocaine use decisions, and a strong scientific premise for applying an RL framework to fill these gaps. This project proposes rigorous PRLC tasks, RL modeling, neuromodulation/fMRI neuroimaging techniques and complementary, translational study designs in rats and humans to study dynamic choice in CUD. The first set of cross-species experiments will use these methods to demonstrate the impact of problematic cocaine use on task performance and reveal the neurobehavioral and neurobiological processes underlying this maladaptive dynamic decision-making. The second set of experiments will use a PRLC task in which intravenous cocaine is available as an alternative to the species-specific non-drug reinforcer to determine the neurobehavioral and neurobiological decision-making "profile" associated with the decision to use cocaine and the reduced cocaine choice that occurs during treatment. Amphetamine maintenance and large non-drug alternative reinforcer treatments reduce cocaine choice, which will be leveraged here to uncover behavioral and neural mechanisms that can be targeted for future treatment development. This project will have a significant impact on the field by establishing the experimental application of reinforcement-learning theory to the study of maladaptive dynamic decision-making in CUD.
Effective start/end date7/1/184/30/24


  • National Institute on Drug Abuse


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