Variations in the stimulus salience of cocaine reward influences drug-associated contextual memory

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Drugs of abuse act as reinforcers because they influence learning and memory processes resulting in long-term memory of drug reward. We have previously shown that mice conditioned by fixed daily dose of cocaine (Fix-C) or daily escalating doses of cocaine (Esc-C) resulted in short- and long-term persistence of drug memory, respectively, suggesting different mechanisms in acquisition of cocaine memory. The present study was undertaken to investigate the differential contribution of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) subunits in the formation of Fix-C and Esc-C memory in C57BL/6J mice. Training by Esc-C resulted in marked elevation in hippocampal expression of Grin2b mRNA and NR2B protein levels compared with training by Fix-C. The NR2B-containing NMDAR antagonist ifenprodil had similar attenuating effects on acquisition and reconsolidation of Fix-C and Esc-C memory. However, the NMDAR antagonist MK-801 had differential effects: (1) higher doses of MK-801 were required for post-retrieval disruption of reconsolidation of Esc-C memory than Fix-C memory; and (2) pre-retrieval MK-801 inhibited extinction of Fix-C memory but it had no effect on Esc-C memory. In addition, blockade of NMDAR downstream signaling pathways also showed differential regulation of Fix-C and Esc-C memory. Inhibition of neuronal nitric oxide synthase attenuated acquisition and disrupted reconsolidation of Fix-C but not Esc-C memory. In contrast, the mitogen-activating extracellular kinase inhibitor SL327 attenuated reconsolidation of Esc-C but not Fix-C memory. These results suggest that NMDAR downstream signaling molecules associated with consolidation and reconsolidation of cocaine-associated memory may vary upon changes in the salience of cocaine reward during conditioning.

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