Date of Graduation


Document Type

Thesis (MS)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Masters of Science (MS)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Alan C Swann

Committee Member

Dr. Andrew Bean

Committee Member

Dr. Anne Sereno

Committee Member

Dr. Michael Beauchamp

Committee Member

Dr. Thomas Goka


Behavioral sensitization is defined as the subsequent augmentation of the locomotor response to a drug following repeated administrations of the drug. It is believed to occur due to alterations in the motive circuit in the brain by stressors, central nervous system stimulants, and similar stimuli. The motive circuit (or mesocorticolimbic system) consists of several interconnected nuclei that determine the behavioral response to significant biological stimuli. A final target of the mesocorticolimbic system is the nucleus accumbens (NAc), which is a key structure linking motivation and action. In particular, the dopaminergic innervations of the Nac are considered to be essential in regulating motivated states of behavior such as goal-directed actions, stimulus-reward associations and reinforcement by addictive substances. Therefore, the objective of this study was to investigate the role of dopaminergic afferents of the NAc in the behavioral sensitization elicited by chronic treatment with methylphenidate (MPD), a psychostimulant that is widely used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The dopaminergic afferents can be selectively destroyed using catecholamine neurotoxin 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA). In order to determine whether destruction of dopaminergic afferents of the NAc prevents sensitization, I compared locomotor activity in rats that had received infusions of 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) into the NAc with that of control and sham-operated animals. All groups of rats received six days of single daily MPD injections after measuring their pre and post surgery locomotor baseline. Following the consecutive MPD injections, there was a washout period of 4 days, where no injections were given. Then, a rechallenge injection of MPD was given. Behavioral responses after repeated MPD were compared to those after acute MPD to assess behavioral sensitization. Expression of sensitization to MPD was not prevented by 6-OHDA infusion into the NAc. Moreover, two distinct responses were seen to the acute injection of MPD: one group of rats had essentially no response to acute MPD, while the other had an augmented (‘sensitized’-like) acute response. Among rats with 6-OHDA infusions, the animals with diminished acute response to MPD had intact behavioral sensitization to repeated MPD, while the animals with increased acute response to MPD did not exhibit further sensitization to it. This suggests that the acute and chronic effects of MPD have distinct underlying neural circuitries.


Behavioral sensitization, nucleus accumbens, shell, core, dopamine, methylphenidate, 6-OHDA lesions



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