A single cocaine administration alters dendritic spine morphology and impairs glutamate receptor synaptic retention in the medial prefrontal cortex of adolescent rats


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Abstract

The brain is still maturing during adolescence and interfering with such a vulnerable period may lead to structural and functional consequences. We investigated the effect of a single cocaine exposure on dendritic spine structure and glutamate dynamics in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of adolescent rats 7 days after a single cocaine administration.We found a reduced number of dendritic spines, suggesting that cocaine lowers the density of dendritic spines in the mPFC of adolescent rats. Since dendritic spines are postsynaptic glutamatergic protrusions, we investigated the main determinants of glutamate postsynaptic responsiveness. In the postsynaptic density, cocaine reduced the expression of the NMDA receptor subunits GluN1, GluN2A and GluN2B as well as of the AMPA GluA1 and GluA2 subunits. Cocaine also impaired their synaptic stability since the expression of the scaffolding proteins SAP102 and SAP97, critical for the anchoring of such receptors at the postsynaptic membrane, was reduced as well. The expression of PSD-95 and Arc/Arg3.1, which play structural and functional roles in glutamate neurons, was also similarly reduced. Such changes were not found in the whole homogenate, ruling out a translational effect of cocaine and implying, rather, an impaired synaptic retention at the active zones of the synapse. Notably, neither these critical glutamate determinants nor the density and morphology of the dendritic spines were altered in the mPFC of adult animals, suggesting that a single cocaine exposure selectively impairs the developmental trajectory of the glutamate synapse.These results indicate a dynamic impairment of mPFC glutamate homeostasis during a critical developmental window that persists for at least one week after a single cocaine administration. Our results identify dysfunctional glutamate synapse as a major contributor to the mechanisms that distinguish adolescent vs. adult outcomes of a single cocaine exposure.Graphical abstractHighlightsSingle adolescent exposure to cocaine causes cortical dendritic spine alterations.Single adolescent exposure to cocaine alters glutamate receptor synaptic localization.Single cocaine treatment during development triggers glutamatergic changes reminiscent of chronic exposure to the drug.

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