The rewarding and locomotor-sensitizing effects of repeated cocaine administration are distinct and separable in mice

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Repeated psychostimulant exposure progressively increases their potency to stimulate motor activity in rodents. This behavioral or locomotor sensitization is considered a model for some aspects of drug addiction in humans, particularly drug craving during abstinence. However, the role of increased motor behavior in drug reward remains incompletely understood. Intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) was measured concurrently with locomotor activity to determine if acute intermittent cocaine administration had distinguishable effects on motor behavior and perception of brain stimulation-reward (BSR) in the same mice. Sensitization is associated with changes in neuronal activity and glutamatergic neurotransmission in brain reward circuitry. Expression of AMPA receptor subunits (GluR1 and GluR2) and CRE binding protein (CREB) was measured in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), dorsolateral striatum (STR) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) before and after a sensitizing regimen of cocaine, with and without ICSS. Repeated cocaine administration sensitized mice to its locomotor-stimulating effects but not its ability to potentiate BSR. ICSS increased GluR1 in the VTA but not NAc or STR, demonstrating selective changes in protein expression with electrical stimulation of discrete brain structures. Repeated cocaine reduced GluR1, GluR2 and CREB expression in the NAc, and reductions of GluR1 and GluR2 but not CREB were further enhanced by ICSS. These data suggest that the effects of repeated cocaine exposure on reward and motor processes are dissociable in mice, and that reduction of excitatory neurotransmission in the NAc may predict altered motor function independently from changes in reward perception.


▸ Locomotor activity but not brain stimulation-reward sensitizes to repeated cocaine. ▸ Intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) alone increases GluR1 expression in the VTA. ▸ Repeated cocaine reduces GluR1, GluR2 and CREB in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). ▸ GluR1 and GluR2, but not CREB, are further reduced in the NAc by cocaine plus ICSS.

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