- Academic Editor
Purpose: Opioid use disorder is a significant global problem. Chronic heroin use is associated with impairment of cognitive function and conscious control ability. The cholinergic system can be disrupted following heroin administration, indicating that activation of the cholinergic system may prevent chronic heroin misuse. Donepezil as an inhibitor of cholinesterase has been reported to clinically improve cognition and attention. In this study, the inhibition of heroin self-administration and heroin-seeking behaviours by donepezil were evaluated in rats. Methods: Rats were trained to self-administer heroin every four hours for 14 consecutive days under a fixed ratio 1 (FR1) reinforcement schedule, then underwent withdrawal for two weeks. A progressive ratio schedule was then used to evaluate the relative motivational value of heroin reinforcement. After withdrawal, a conditioned cue was introduced for the reinstatement of heroin-seeking behaviour. Donepezil (0.3–3 mg/kg, i.p.) was used during both the FR1 heroin self-administration and progressive ratio schedules. Immunohistochemistry was used to investigate the mechanism of action of donepezil in the rat brain. Results: Pre-treatment with high dose donepezil (3 mg/kg) but not low doses (0.3–1 mg/kg) significantly inhibited heroin self-administration under the FR1 schedule. Donepezil decreased motivation values under the progressive ratio schedule in a dose-dependent manner. All doses of donepezil (1–3 mg/kg) decreased the reinstatement of heroin seeking induced by cues. Correlation analysis indicated that the inhibition of donepezil on heroin-seeking behaviour was positively correlated with an increased expression of dopamine receptor 1 (D1R) and dopamine receptor 2 (D2R) in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and increased expression of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Conclusions: The present study demonstrated that donepezil could inhibit heroin intake and heroin-seeking behaviour. Further, donepezil could regulate dopamine receptors in the NAc via an increase of acetylcholine. These results suggested that donepezil could be developed as a potential approach for the treatment of heroin misuse.