‘Up-regulation of histone acetylation induced by social defeat mediates the conditioned rewarding effects of cocaine

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Social defeat (SD) induces a long-lasting increase in the rewarding effects of psychostimulants measured using the self-administration and conditioned place procedures (CPP). However, little is known about the epigenetic changes induced by social stress and about their role in the increased response to the rewarding effects of psychostimulants. Considering that histone acetylation regulates transcriptional activity and contributes to drug-induced behavioral changes, we addressed the hypothesis that SD induces transcriptional changes by histone modifications associated with the acquisition of place conditioning. After a fourth defeat, H3(K9) acetylation was decreased in the hippocampus, while there was an increase of HAT and a decrease of HDAC levels in the cortex. Three weeks after the last defeat, mice displayed an increase in histone H4(K12) acetylation and an upregulation of histone acetyl transferase (HAT) activity in the hippocampus. In addition, H3(K4)me3, which is closely associated with transcriptional initiation, was also augmented in the hippocampus three weeks after the last defeat. Inhibition of HAT by curcumin (100 mg/kg) before each SD blocked the increase in the conditioned reinforcing effects of 1 mg/kg of cocaine, while inhibition of HDAC by valproic acid (500 mg/kg) before social stress potentiated cocaine-induced CPP. Preference was reinstated when animals received a priming dose of 0.5 mg/kg of cocaine, an effect that was absent in untreated defeated mice. These results suggest that the experience of SD induces chromatin remodeling, alters histone acetylation and methylation, and modifies the effects of cocaine on place conditioning. They also point to epigenetic mechanisms as potential avenues leading to new treatments for the long-term effects of social stress on drug addiction.

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