Drug-related stimuli can elicit drug craving in drug abusers and have been implicated in relapse. An important objective of drug abuse treatment is to reduce or eliminate the control that these cues have over individuals. The goal of the research proposed here is to use an animal model to develop procedures that can be used to effectively treat drug cues. Specifically, we will investigate techniques for temporarily restoring or amplifying the expectation-outcome error signal produced by non-reinforcement as a means of enhancing extinction and conditioned inhibition of drug seeking.
The first aim of the proposed research is to develop a way to deepen the extinction of drug cues by using combinations of drug- as well as non-drug- related stimuli to increase the error signal generated during extinction learning.
A second aim i s to create similar procedures that deepen the conditioned inhibition of drug seeking.
A third aim i s to deepen the extinction of drug cues by pharmacologically-reinstating the effects of a previously extinguished drug cue prior to exposing that cue to additional, extensive extinction. Achieving these aims could (1) provide insight into ways of enhancing the extinction and conditioned inhibition of drug seeking via behavioral and pharmacological interventions, and (2) form the empirical basis for the creation of an effective extinction- based treatment for drug abuse, a major public health problem.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research will investigate methods for reducing and ultimately eliminating the power that drug-associated stimuli have over drug users. Such stimuli have been shown to produce drug craving and have been implicated in relapse. Therefore, this research could lead to the development of effective treatments for drug abuse, a major public health problem.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Biobehavioral Regulation, Learning and Ethology Study Section (BRLE)
Program Officer
Lynch, Minda
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
American University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Tunstall, Brendan J; Kearns, David N (2014) Cocaine can generate a stronger conditioned reinforcer than food despite being a weaker primary reinforcer. Addict Biol :
Tunstall, Brendan J; Kearns, David N (2014) Reinstatement in a cocaine versus food choice situation: reversal of preference between drug and non-drug rewards. Addict Biol 19:838-48
Tunstall, Brendan J; Riley, Anthony L; Kearns, David N (2014) Drug specificity in drug versus food choice in male rats. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 22:364-72
Tunstall, Brendan J; Verendeev, Andrey; Kearns, David N (2013) Outcome specificity in deepened extinction may limit treatment feasibility: co-presentation of a food cue interferes with extinction of cue-elicited cocaine seeking. Drug Alcohol Depend 133:832-7
Kearns, David N; Tunstall, Brendan J; Marks, Katherine R et al. (2012) Extinction of goal tracking also eliminates the conditioned reinforcing effects of an appetitive conditioned stimulus. Psychon Bull Rev 19:135-8
Kearns, David N; Weiss, Stanley J (2012) Extinguished cocaine cues increase drug seeking when presented simultaneously with a non-extinguished cocaine cue. Drug Alcohol Depend 121:140-7
Kearns, David N; Weiss, Stanley J (2011) A comparison of explicitly unpaired treatment and extinction: recovery of sign-tracking within a context renewal design. Behav Processes 86:364-7
Kearns, David N; Gomez-Serrano, Maria A; Tunstall, Brendan J (2011) A review of preclinical research demonstrating that drug and non-drug reinforcers differentially affect behavior. Curr Drug Abuse Rev 4:261-9
Marks, Katherine R; Kearns, David N; Christensen, Chesley J et al. (2010) Learning that a cocaine reward is smaller than expected: A test of Redish's computational model of addiction. Behav Brain Res 212:204-7
Weiss, Stanley J; Kearns, David N; Antoshina, Maria (2009) Within-subject reversibility of discriminative function in the composite-stimulus control of behavior. J Exp Anal Behav 92:367-77

Showing the most recent 10 out of 24 publications