RATIONALEVoluntary aerobic exercise has shown promise as a treatment for substance abuse, reducing relapse in cocaine-dependent people. Wheel running also attenuates drug-primed and cue-induced reinstatement of cocaine seeking in rats, an animal model of relapse. However, in most of these studies, wheel access was provided throughout cocaine self-administration and/or extinction and had effects on several parameters of drug seeking. Moreover, the effects of exercise on footshock stress-induced reinstatement have not been investigated.OBJECTIVESThe purposes of this study were to isolate and specifically examine the protective effect of exercise on relapse-like behavior elicited by a drug prime or stress.METHODSRats were trained to self-administer cocaine at a stable level, followed by extinction training. Once extinction criteria were met, rats were split into exercise (24 h, continuous access to running wheel) and sedentary groups for 3 weeks, after which, drug-seeking behavior was assessed following a cocaine prime or footshock. We also measured galanin messenger RNA (mRNA) in the locus coeruleus and A2 noradrenergic nucleus.RESULTSExercising rats ran ∼4-6 km/day, comparable to levels previously reported for rats without a history of cocaine self-administration. Post-extinction exercise significantly attenuated cocaine-primed, but not footshock stress-induced, reinstatement of cocaine seeking, and increased galanin mRNA expression in the LC but not A2.CONCLUSIONThese results indicate that chronic wheel running can attenuate some forms of reinstatement, even when initiated after the cessation of cocaine self-administration, supporting the idea that voluntary exercise programs may help maintain abstinence in clinical populations.