Cocaine-induced locomotor activity and Fos expression in nucleus accumbens are sensitized for 6 months after repeated cocaine administration outside the home cage

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Abstract

Induction of the immediate early gene protein product Fos has been used extensively to assess neural activation in the striatum after repeated cocaine administration to rats in their home cages but rarely after repeated administration outside the home cage, which produces more robust locomotor sensitization. In the present study, we found cocaine-induced Fos expression in nucleus accumbens, but not caudate-putamen, was enhanced 1 and 6 months after repeated drug administration in locomotor activity chambers. Double-labelling of Fos protein and enkephalin mRNA indicated that Fos expression in nucleus accumbens was enhanced in enkephalin-positive, but not enkephalin-negative, medium spiny neurons. In contrast, cocaine-induced Fos expression was absent altogether in nucleus accumbens and unaltered in caudate-putamen 1 month after repeated cocaine administration in the home cage. As cocaine-induced locomotor activity was also enhanced 1 and 6 months after repeated cocaine administration in locomotor activity chambers, we wanted to confirm that neuronal activity in nucleus accumbens mediates cocaine-induced locomotor activity using our particular treatment regimen. Bilateral infusions of the GABA agonists baclofen and muscimol (1 μg/side) into nucleus accumbens of sensitized rats blocked cocaine-induced Fos expression and locomotor activity. Thus, while neuronal activity in both D1- and D2-type neurons in nucleus accumbens can mediate acute cocaine-induced locomotor activity, the enhanced activation of enkephalinergic D2-type neurons suggests that these latter neurons mediate the enhancement of cocaine-induced locomotor activity for up to 6 months after repeated drug administration outside the home cage.

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