, Volume 236, Issue 7, pp 2143–2153 | Cite as

Effects of chronic cocaine self-administration and N-acetylcysteine on learning, cognitive flexibility, and reinstatement in nonhuman primates

  • Brian D. KangasEmail author
  • Rachel J. Doyle
  • Stephen J. Kohut
  • Jack Bergman
  • Marc J. Kaufman
Original Investigation



Cocaine use disorder (CUD) is associated with cognitive deficits that have been linked to poor treatment outcomes. An improved understanding of cocaine’s deleterious effects on cognition may help optimize pharmacotherapies. Emerging evidence implicates abnormalities in glutamate neurotransmission in CUD and drugs that normalize glutamatergic homeostasis (e.g., N-acetylcysteine [NAC]) may attenuate CUD-related relapse behavior.


The present studies examined the impact of chronic cocaine exposure on touchscreen-based models of learning (repeated acquisition) and cognitive flexibility (discrimination reversal) and, also, the ability of NAC to modulate cocaine self-administration and its capacity to reinstate drug-seeking behavior.


First, stable repeated acquisition and discrimination reversal performance was established. Next, high levels of cocaine-taking behavior (2.13–3.03 mg/kg/session) were maintained for 150 sessions during which repeated acquisition and discrimination reversal performance was probed periodically. Finally, the effects of NAC treatment were examined on cocaine self-administration and, subsequently, extinction and reinstatement.


Cocaine self-administration significantly impaired performance under both cognitive tasks; however, discrimination reversal was disrupted considerably more than acquisition. Performance eventually approximated baseline levels during chronic exposure. NAC treatment did not perturb ongoing self-administration behavior but was associated with significantly quicker extinction of drug-lever responding. Cocaine-primed reinstatement did not significantly differ between groups.


The disruptive effects of cocaine on learning and cognitive flexibility are profound but performance recovered during chronic exposure. Although the effects of NAC on models of drug-taking and drug-seeking behavior in monkeys are less robust than reported in rodents, they nevertheless suggest a role for glutamatergic modulators in CUD treatment programs.


Self-administration Cocaine N-acetylcysteine Learning Cognitive flexibility Reinstatement Nonhuman Primates 



The authors thank Roger Spealman for comments on a previous version of this manuscript.

Funding information

This research was supported by grants K01-DA035974 (BDK) and R21-DA039301 (MJK) from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Compliance with ethical standards

The protocol for the present studies was approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at McLean Hospital in a facility licensed by the US Department of Agriculture and in accordance with guidelines provided by the Committee on Care and Use of Laboratory Animals of the Institute of Laboratory Animals Resources, Commission on Life Sciences (National Research Council 2011).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harvard Medical SchoolMcLean HospitalBelmontUSA

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