Increases in cytoplasmic dopamine compromise the normal resistance of the nucleus accumbens to methamphetamine neurotoxicity

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Methamphetamine (METH) is a neurotoxic drug of abuse that damages the dopamine (DA) neuronal system in a highly delimited manner. The brain structure most affected by METH is the caudate-putamen (CPu) where long-term DA depletion and microglial activation are most evident. Even damage within the CPu is remarkably heterogenous with lateral and ventral aspects showing the greatest deficits. The nucleus accumbens (NAc) is largely spared of the damage that accompanies binge METH intoxication. Increases in cytoplasmic DA produced by reserpine, L-DOPA or clorgyline prior to METH uncover damage in the NAc as evidenced by microglial activation and depletion of DA, tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), and the DA transporter. These effects do not occur in the NAc after treatment with METH alone. In contrast to the CPu where DA, TH, and DA transporter levels remain depleted chronically, DA nerve ending alterations in the NAc show a partial recovery over time. None of the treatments that enhance METH toxicity in the NAc and CPu lead to losses of TH protein or DA cell bodies in the substantia nigra or the ventral tegmentum. These data show that increases in cytoplasmic DA dramatically broaden the neurotoxic profile of METH to include brain structures not normally targeted for damage by METH alone. The resistance of the NAc to METH-induced neurotoxicity and its ability to recover reveal a fundamentally different neuroplasticity by comparison to the CPu. Recruitment of the NAc as a target of METH neurotoxicity by alterations in DA homeostasis is significant in light of the important roles played by this brain structure.

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