Much of our daily behavior is controlled by stimuli (cues) associated with rewards;these cues can promote either adaptive or maladaptive behavior. We are interested in the role of cues in promoting drug seeking and drug taking behavior because the response to cues may be an essential component of addiction. Cues associated with rewards (conditional stimuli, CSs) powerfully motivate behavior only if they are attributed with incentive motivational properties ("incentive salience"), and thus acquire the ability to act as incentive stimuli. Among outbred Sprague Dawley rats there is large variation in the propensity of individual rats to attribute incentive salience to food and drug cues. Using a behavioral paradigm called Pavlovian Conditioned Approach (PCA), Sprague Dawley rats can be categorized as sign trackers, meaning that they assign incentive salience to the cue (sign) or goal trackers, which do not assign incentive salience to the cue. This application seeks to take advantage of an outstanding opportunity. As part of an ongoing program project grant, our collaborators are phenotyping several thousand Sprague Dawley rats. They are providing us with phenotypic data and tails as a source of DNA. The current proposal seeks to genotype these samples and then to perform a genome-wide association study. This will allow us to identify genes that underlie the individual variability in PCA observed among outbred Sprague Dawley rats. Because we do not need to pay for the cost of housing or testing the rats, this project is extremely inexpensive yet has the potential to open up completely new molecular avenues for the exploration of the role of cues in shaping behavior. The sample size proposed here (n=3,000) is larger than any similar study that we are aware of in rats or mice and thus provides outstanding power.
Individual differences in the way animals learn to associate cues with rewards are thought to influence vulnerability to drug abuse. We are taking advantage of an ongoing study in which several thousand rats are being assessed for a cue learning paradigm called Pavlovian conditioned approach. We will obtain tissue from these rats and use cutting edge methods to identify genes that underlie individual differences in this trait;our findings can enhance our understanding of the pathophysiology of drug abuse and may identify new targets for therapeutic drug development.