Levodopa prevents the reinstatement of cocaine self-administration in rats via potentiation of dopamine release in the medial prefrontal cortex

Dopamine agonists have been proposed as therapeutic tools for cocaine addiction. We have recently demonstrated that indirect dopamine agonists, including levodopa (L-DOPA), markedly increase cocaine-induced dopamine release in the
medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of rats leading to the suppression of cocaine-seeking behavior. This study was aimed to understand the behavioral and neurochemical effects of L-DOPA on cocaine-taking and cocaine-seeking in rats. After
reaching a stable pattern of intravenous cocaine self-administration under a continuous fixed ratio (FR-1) schedule of reinforcement, male rats were treated with L-DOPA at different steps of the self-administration protocol. 

We found that L-DOPA reduced cocaine self-administration under FR-1 schedule of reinforcement and decreased the breaking points and the amount of cocaine self-administered under the progressive ratio schedule of reinforcement. Levodopa also
decreased cocaine-seeking behavior both in a saline substitution test and in the cue priming-induced reinstatement test, without affecting general motor activity. Importantly, L-DOPA greatly potentiated cocaine-induced dopamine release in the mPFC of self-administering rats while reducing their cocaine intake. In the same brain area, L-DOPA also
increased dopamine levels during cue priming-induced reinstatement of cocaine-seeking behavior. The potentiating effect was also evident in the mPFC but not nucleus accumbens core of drug-naïve rats passively administered with cocaine. Altogether, these findings demonstrate that L-DOPA efficaciously reduces the reinforcing and motivational
effects of cocaine likely potentiating dopamine transmission in the mPFC. Its ability to prevent cue priming-induced reinstatement of cocaine-seeking suggests that it might be effective in reducing the risk to relapse to cocaine in abstinent patients.