Attentional bias for Alcohol - a rat model
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Alcohol addiction is a severe disease with many consequences for the addicted one as well as consequences for the society. Therapeutic options for alcoholism are limited in number and efficacy, but recent studies show that cognitive therapy, focused on the attentional bias for drug-related cues, may be beneficial for alcoholism as it is for other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorders. Attentional bias for drug-related cues is a phenomenon that is seen in addicted persons and it is thought to play an important role in the development and the maintenance of an alcohol addiction. Apart from the therapeutic benefits of attentional bias training, more understanding of the biological basis of attentional bias may also help to improve the treatment of an alcohol addiction. In this study, the main aim is to determine whether there is an attentional bias for alcohol-related cues in animals as well. For this purpose, we have used Lister Hooded rats that have previously shown to display marked individual differences in alcohol intake and allow the identification of high and low alcohol drinking phenotypes. In addition to this main aim, we also sought to determine whether high and low alcohol drinking phenotypes may correlate with anxiety-like behavior and the working memory capacity prior to exposure to alcohol as these factors are known to co-exist with human alcoholism. A so-called Intermittent-every-other-day two-bottle choice paradigm was used to allow the animals to consume and alcohol and determine which animals develop a low, medium or high alcohol drinking phenotype. Next to the alcohol animals, we trained a water group parallel as well and these rats received two bottles with water. After this paradigm, all the animals were trained in a Skinner Box for the attentional bias test. We found a significant relation between working memory and alcohol intake in our rats. The high drinking rats had a lower working memory compared to the low drinking group (p= 0,024) and the medium drinking group (p=0,002) prior to their first exposure to alcohol. No significant differences were observed for anxiety-like behavior and general activity between the alcohol drinking subgroups. The attentional bias training showed more difficult for the animals than expected. The animals did not discriminate between a tone and a no tone signal. After retraining the animals on a no tone condition, with inclusion of punishment time-outs upon an erroneous response and a 5 s interval prior to lever presentation and subsequent introduction of tone trials however the animals are now starting to acquire the task. The final results of this part of the study will however not be included in this report. In conclusion, high drinking rats, in their alcohol-naïve state, have a lower working memory capacity compared to low drinking rats and medium drinking rats. Working memory capacity may therefore be considered a predictive factor for later alcohol consumption. Moreover, we have made important progress in the development of a rat attentional bias task.