mTOR signaling in the nucleus accumbens mediates behavioral sensitization to methamphetamine

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Chronic psychostimulant treatment in rodents readily produces behavioral sensitization, which reflects altered brain function in response to repeated drug exposure. Numerous morphological and biochemical investigations implicate altered neural plasticity in striatal medium spiny neurons (MSNs) as an essential component in behavioral sensitization. The mammalian target of the rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway, a key regulator of synaptic neuroplasticity, in the ventral striatum of methamphetamine (METH) -sensitized mice was investigated to determine if a link exists with the development of METH sensitization. Behaviorally, METH-sensitized mice possessed increased levels of phosphorylated mTOR/S2448 and its down-stream regulator p70S6K and pS6 in the ventral striatum. Systemic treatment with rapamycin, a specific mTOR inhibitor, coincident with a daily METH injection suppressed the induction of METH sensitization and reduced the number of dendritic spines in the shell and core of the nucleus accumbens. The infusion of lentivirus-expressing mTOR-shRNA into the shell region of the nucleus accumbens inhibited the induction of behavioral sensitization to METH, which was comparable to the effect of rapamycin. These results suggest that mTORC1-mediated signaling in the nucleus accumbens mediates the development of behavioral sensitization to METH.

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