Intravenous and Oral Caffeine Self-Administration in Rats

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Caffeine is widely consumed for its psychoactive effects worldwide. No pre-clinical study has established reliable caffeine self-administration, but we found that caffeine can enhance the reinforcing effects of non-drug rewards. The goal of the present studies was to determine if this effect of caffeine could result in reliable caffeine self-administration. In 2 experiments rats could make an operant response for caffeine delivered in conjunction with an oral ‘vehicle’ including saccharin (0.2% w/v) as a primary reinforcer. In Experiment 1, intravenous (IV) caffeine infusions were delivered in conjunction with oral saccharin for meeting the schedule of reinforcement. In control conditions, oral saccharin alone or presentations of IV caffeine alone served as the reinforcer. In Experiment 2, access to caffeine was provided in an oral vehicle containing water, decaffeinated instant coffee (0.5% w/v), or decaffeinated coffee and saccharin (0.2%). The concentration of oral caffeine was then manipulated across testing sessions. Oral and IV caffeine robustly increased responding for saccharin in a manner that was repeatable, reliable, and systematically related to unit IV dose. However, the relationship between oral caffeine dose and operant behavior was less systematic; the rats appeared to titrate their caffeine intake by reducing the consummatory response (drinking) rather than the appetitive response (lever pressing). These studies establish reliable volitional caffeine self-administration in rats. The reinforcement enhancing effects of caffeine may help to explain widespread caffeine use by humans, who ingest caffeine in complex vehicles with reinforcing properties.