Pigeon Study

Acute and Chronic Effects of Cocaine on the Spontaneous Behavior of Pigeons

Key Study Abstract

The present experiment examined the effects of acute and daily cocaine on spontaneous behavior patterns of pigeons. After determining the acute effects of a range of doses, 9 pigeons were divided into three groups that received one of three doses of cocaine daily, either 1.0, 3.0, or 10.0 mg/kg cocaine. Measures were taken of spontaneous locomotion, pecking, preening, and emesis. Under daily administration, cocaine induced consistent and substantial enhancements of its locomotor effects in all 9 pigeons, consistent with the phenomenon of locomotor sensitization. The maximum locomotor output did not differ according to the size of the daily dose. Locomotion was not elevated following tests of the saline vehicle, suggesting the effect was due to cocaine, not to a change in baseline or reactivity to the injection procedure.

Cocaine dose-dependently decreased preening when given acutely, and those effects were not altered by repeated cocaine administration. Pecking occurred at very low rates and was unresponsive to cocaine treatment. Cocaine-induced emesis showed a dose-dependent increase under initial tests with cocaine, and those effects were attenuated following daily exposure. In a final condition, cocaine was replaced with daily saline for 30 days to assess the persistence cocaine-related increases in locomotion.

Approximately half of the pigeons continued to show enhanced effects even after 30 days without cocaine, so although persistence was obtained, it showed marked intersubject variability. The data indicate that the effects of repeated cocaine administration on the behavior of pigeons shows parallels with many effects commonly reported with rodents (i.e., increased locomotion following repeated treatment, decrease in preening or grooming, persistence following drug withdrawal).

Keywords: cocaine, sensitization, locomotion, preening, pecking, emesis, pigeon