Date of Thesis



The purpose of our study was to assess whether prairie voles find alcohol rewarding. Prairie voles have recently become a species of interest for alcohol studies, which have traditionally used other rodent model species including several different strains of mice and rats. The prairie vole is one of only two known rodent species that readily administers high levels of unsweetened alcohol, implicating it as a potentially effective animal model for studying alcohol abuse. However, voluntary consumption does not necessarily imply that prairie voles find it rewarding. Therefore the purpose of our study was to investigate if alcohol has rewarding properties for prairie voles using three different approaches: place conditioning, flavor conditioning, and immunohistochemistry. Furthermore, we sought to characterize their reward profile and compare it to other commonly used rodent models ¿ C57BL/6 mice, DBA/2J mice, and Sprague-Dawley rats. Place and flavor conditioning are behavioral methods that rely on the learned association between a stimulus and the effects of a drug; the drug of interest in these studies is alcohol. To assess whether prairie voles will demonstrate a conditioned preference for alcohol-paired stimuli, seven place conditioning studies were run that investigated a range of different doses, individual conditioning session durations, and trial durations. Video analysis revealed no difference in the amount of time spent on the alcohol-paired floor, suggesting no conditioned place preference for alcohol. Two flavor conditioning tests were conducted to assess whether voles would demonstrate a preference for an alcohol-paired flavored saccharin solution. Voles demonstrated reduced consumption of the alcohol-paired flavored saccharin solution, regardless of dose or flavor, when alcohol administration occurred after conditioning sessions (p=<0.001). When alcohol was administered before conditioning sessions, no difference in consumption of the alcohol-paired and saline-paired flavored saccharin solutions was seen (p=0.545). Previous studies that have documented similar behavior have hypothesized that this is an example of an anticipatory contrast effect. This theory proposes that prairie voles reduce their intake of a hedonic solution (flavored saccharin solution) in anticipation of later drug administration (alcohol). However, conditioning-based behavioral methods of studying alcohol reward are highly sensitive to the parameters of the conditioned stimulus, thus it is possible that voles will not show preference for alcohol-related stimuli, even if they do find alcohol rewarding. Immunohistochemical analysis supplemented this behavioral data by allowing us to identify specific neural regions that were directly activated in response to the acute administration of alcohol. No difference in the number of activated c-Fos neurons in the Nucleus Accumbens (NAc) core or shell was seen (p=0.3364; p=0.6698) in animals that received an acute injection of alcohol or saline. There was a significant increase in the number of activated c-Fos neurons in the Paraventricular Nucleus of the Hypothalamus (PVN) in alcohol-treated animals compared to saline-treated animals (p=0.0034). There was no difference in the pixel count of activated c-Fos neurons or in the % area activated in the Arcuate Nucleus between alcohol and saline-treated animals (p=0.4523; p=0.3304). In conclusion, the place conditioning studies that were conducted in this thesis suggest that prairie voles do not demonstrate preference or aversion towards alcohol-paired stimuli. The flavor conditioning studies suggest that prairie voles do not demonstrate aversion but rather avoidance of the alcohol-paired flavor in anticipation of future alcohol administration. The preliminary immunohistochemical data collected is inconclusive but cannot rule out the possibility of neuronal activation patterns indicative of reward. Taken together, our data indicate that prairie voles hav


Alcohol, Reward, Prairie Voles, Place Conditioning, Flavor Conditioning, Immunohistochemistry

Access Type

Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Bachelor of Science



First Advisor

Jennie Stevenson

Second Advisor

Kevin Myers