Finding genetic polymorphisms and mutations linked to addictive behavior can provide important targets for pharmaceutical and therapeutic interventions. Forward genetic approaches in model organisms such as zebrafish provide a potentially powerful avenue for finding new target genes. In order to validate this use of zebrafish, the molecular nature of its reward system must be characterized. We have previously reported the use of cocaine-induced conditioned place preference (CPP) as a reliable method for screening mutagenized fish for defects in the reward pathway. Here we test if CPP in zebrafish involves the dopaminergic system by co-treating fish with cocaine and dopaminergic antagonists. Sulpiride, a potent D2 receptor (DR2) antagonist, blocked cocaine-induced CPP, while the D1 receptor (DR1) antagonist SCH23390 had no effect. Acute cocaine exposure also induced a rise in the expression of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), an important enzyme in dopamine synthesis, and a significant decrease in the expression of elongation factor 1α (EF1α), a housekeeping gene that regulates protein synthesis. Cocaine selectively increased the ratio of TH/EF1α in the telencephalon, but not in other brain regions. The cocaine-induced change in TH/EF1α was blocked by co-treatment with sulpiride, but not SCH23390, correlating closely with the action of these drugs on the CPP behavioral response. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed that the drop in EF1α was selective for the dorsal nucleus of the ventral telencephalic area (Vd), a region believed to be the teleost equivalent of the striatum. Examination of TH mRNA and EF1α transcripts suggests that regulation of expression is post-transcriptional, but this requires further examination. These results highlight important similarities and differences between zebrafish and more traditional mammalian model organisms.Highlights
▸ We describe a new conditioned place preference (CPP) assay used for zebrafish. ▸ We describe the impact of dopamine antagonists on CPP. ▸ We show gene expression changes in the telencephalon that correspond with CPP. ▸ EF1α is lowered in the ventral telencephalon of cocaine-treated fish.