Date of Award

Summer 7-15-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Neuroscience Institute

First Advisor

Kyle J. Frantz

Second Advisor

Timothy J. Bartness

Third Advisor

Michael J. Kuhar

Fourth Advisor

Anne Z. Murphy


Adolescence in humans is a vulnerable period for illicit drug use, and teenage onset of drug use is associated with long-term addiction. Adolescent sensitivity to drug reinforcement, relapse, and withdrawal has not been explored thoroughly in animal models, especially considering opiate drugs such as morphine and heroin. The present series of studies profiles adolescent sensitivity to opiates using adolescent and adult male rats to test for age differences in opiate self-administration, reinstatement, withdrawal signs, locomotor sensitization, and even brain activation during drug-seeking. To test for acute sensitivity to the reinforcing effects of morphine or heroin, we compared patterns of self-administration by adolescent vs. adult male rats on various schedules of reinforcement, drug doses, and daily access conditions. Using fixed ratio schedules and short daily access, adolescents self-administered less morphine than adults, an effect commonly interpreted as higher drug sensitivity. In contrast, escalation of morphine intake under long access conditions was similar across ages, as was heroin intake using fixed or progressive ratio schedules of reinforcement. To test for enduring effects of opiates, we compared opiate-seeking in the absence of the drug in tests of extinction responding and cue-induced reinstatement. Regardless of the acute effects of morphine or heroin, all adolescent treatment groups showed attenuated opiate-seeking compared to adults. Next we considered behavioral correlates of reinforcement, drug withdrawal and locomotor sensitization, during and after escalating doses of experimenter-administered heroin. Consistent with attenuated opiate-seeking, adolescents exhibited attenuated somatic and locomotor signs of withdrawal compared with adults, although locomotor sensitization was similar across ages. Finally, the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is a brain region heavily implicated in drug reinforcement, so we used tissue levels of Fos-like immunoreactivity to compare activation of this region by heroin-seeking. Indeed mPFC activation was absent in rats that self-administered heroin as adolescents, but robust in adults. Together these behavioral and neuroanatomical results surprisingly suggest that adolescent male rats are less sensitive than adults to some acute and enduring effects of opiates, and may predict better response profiles among younger human addicts. Through future studies, adolescent rats may provide a new model to help identify treatments for drug abuse.