Background: There are sex differences in addiction behaviors. To develop a pre-clinical animal model to investigate this, the present study examined sex differences in sucrose taking and seeking using LongEvans rats.
Methods: Five experiments were conducted using separate groups of subjects. The first two examined sucrose or saccharin preference in two-bottle home cage choice tests. Experiment three assessed sucrose intake in a binge model with sucrose available in home cage bottles. Experiments four and five utilized operant-based procedures. In Experiment four rats responded for sucrose on fixed and progressive ratio (FR, PR) schedules of reinforcement over a range of concentrations of sucrose. A final component of experiment four was measuring seeking in the absence of sucrose challenged with the dopamine D1 receptor antagonist SCH23390. Experiment five assessed responding for water on FR and PR schedules of reinforcement.
Results: When accounting for body weight, female rats consumed more sucrose than water; but there was no sex difference in saccharin preference over a range of saccharin concentrations. When accounting for body weight, females consumed more sucrose than males in the binge model, and only females increased binge intake over the 14 days of the study. Females responded at higher rates for sucrose under both FR and PR schedules of reinforcement. Females responded at higher rates in extinction (seeking); SCH23390 reduced sucrose seeking of both females and males. Females responded at higher rates for water on FR and PR schedules than males, although rates of responding were low and decreased over sessions.
Conclusions: Across bottle-choice, binge intake, and operant procedures, female Long-Evans rats consumed more sucrose and responded at higher rates for sucrose. Although females also responded more for water, the vigor of responding did not explain the consistent sex difference in sucrose taking and seeking. The sex difference in sucrose taking was also not explained by sweet preference, as there was no sex difference in saccharin preference. These data corroborate with findings of sex differences in addiction behaviors in humans, providing a pre-clinical model to further evaluate sex differences in these behaviors and manipulations designed to reduce them.