Differential behavioral and molecular alterations upon protracted abstinence from cocaine versus morphine, nicotine, THC and alcohol

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Unified theories of addiction are challenged by differing drug-seeking behaviors and neurobiological adaptations across drug classes, particularly for narcotics and psychostimulants. We previously showed that protracted abstinence to opiates leads to despair behavior and social withdrawal in mice, and we identified a transcriptional signature in the extended amygdala that was also present in animals abstinent from nicotine, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and alcohol. Here we examined whether protracted abstinence to these four drugs would also share common behavioral features, and eventually differ from abstinence to the prototypic psychostimulant cocaine. We found similar reduced social recognition, increased motor stereotypies and increased anxiety with relevant c-fos response alterations in morphine, nicotine, THC and alcohol abstinent mice. Protracted abstinence to cocaine, however, led to strikingly distinct, mostly opposing adaptations at all levels, including behavioral responses, neuronal activation and gene expression. Together, these data further document the existence of common hallmarks for protracted abstinence to opiates, nicotine, THC and alcohol that develop within motivation/emotion brain circuits. In our model, however, these do not apply to cocaine, supporting the notion of unique mechanisms in psychostimulant abuse.

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