Chemogenetic inhibition of direct pathway striatal neurons normalizes pathological, cue-induced reinstatement of drug-seeking in rats

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Addiction to drugs such as cocaine is marked by cycles of compulsive drug-taking and drug-seeking behavior. Although the transition to addiction is thought to recruit neural processes in dorsal striatum, little is known regarding the role of dorsal striatal projections to the substantia nigra (i.e. the direct pathway) in regulating these behaviors. Combining a Cre-recombinase-dependent chemogenetic approach with a cocaine self-administration paradigm that produces both low-risk and high-risk addiction phenotypes, we examined the effect of transiently decreasing direct pathway activity in the dorsomedial striatum on drug-taking and drug-seeking under conditions of normal and pathological drug use. Surprisingly, transient inhibition of direct pathway striatal neurons had no effect on several measures of addictive behavior during ongoing drug use, including loss of control over drug intake, high motivation to obtain drug and drug use despite negative consequences (i.e. drug use paired with foot shock). However, chemogenetic inhibition of these neurons during reinstatement reduced cue-induced drug-seeking, but only in the high-risk addiction phenotype group. Cue-induced reinstatement was relatively normal in the low-risk addiction phenotype group, as well as following reinstatement to cues associated with sucrose pellet consumption. These results demonstrate that dorsomedial direct pathway striatal neurons play a very specific role in addictive behaviors, which is to regulate the pathological drug-seeking that accompanies relapse.

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