RATIONALE: Unlike adult rats, young rats exhibit context-dependent and context-independent behavioral sensitization when assessed after a single pretreatment injection of cocaine. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to determine whether: (1) the context-dependent and context-independent sensitization of young rats can be dissociated based on the persistence of the sensitized response and (2) the expression of behavioral sensitization is associated with region-specific increases in Fos immunoreactivity (Fos-IR). MATERIALS AND METHODS: On postnatal day (PD) 19, rats were injected with either saline or cocaine (30 mg/kg) in a novel test chamber or the home cage. After 1, 3, 5, 7, 14, or 61 abstinence days, rats were challenged with 20 mg/kg cocaine and locomotor activity was measured for 60 min. In a separate experiment, rats pretreated on PD 19 were challenged with cocaine (10-30 mg/kg) on PD 80. RESULTS: The sensitized responding of young rats persisted for the same length of time (5 days) regardless of whether cocaine pretreatment occurred in a novel environment or the home cage. Behavioral sensitization did not reemerge in adulthood. When assessed after three abstinence days (i.e., on PD 22), acute treatment with cocaine increased Fos-IR in various brain regions, but sensitized responding was associated with elevated Fos expression in only the caudate-putamen (CP) and prefrontal cortex (PFC). CONCLUSIONS: Persistence of the sensitized response cannot be used to dissociate the one-trial context-dependent and context-independent sensitization of young rats. Fos data indicate that the CP and PFC may be involved in the mediation of short-term behavioral sensitization on PD 22.