Stable immediate early gene expression patterns in medial prefrontal cortex and striatum after long-term cocaine self-administration (2015)

Addict Biol. 2015 Nov 24. doi: 10.1111/adb.12330.

Gao P1, Limpens JH2, Spijker S3, Vanderschuren LJ2,4, Voorn P1.


The transition from casual to compulsive drug use is thought to occur as a consequence of repeated drug taking leading to neuroadaptive changes in brain circuitry involved in emotion and cognition. At the basis of such neuroadaptations lie changes in the expression of immediate early genes (IEGs) implicated in transcriptional regulation, synaptic plasticity and intracellular signalling. However, little is known about how IEG expression patterns change during long-term drug self-administration.

The present study, therefore, compares the effects of 10 and 60-day self-administration of cocaine and sucrose on the expression of 17 IEGs in brain regions implicated in addictive behaviour, i.e. dorsal striatum, ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC).

Increased expression after cocaine self-administration was found for 6 IEGs in dorsal and ventral striatum (c-fos, Mkp1, Fosb/ΔFosb, Egr2, Egr4, and Arc) and 10 IEGs in mPFC (same 6 IEGs as in striatum, plus Bdnf, Homer1, Sgk1 and Rgs2). Five of these 10 IEGs (Egr2, Fosb/ΔFosb, Bdnf, Homer1 and Jun) and Trkb in mPFC were responsive to long-term sucrose self-administration.

Importantly, no major differences were found between IEG expression patterns after 10 or 60 days of cocaine self-administration, except Fosb/ΔFosb in dorsal striatum and Egr2 in mPFC, whereas the amount of cocaine obtained per session was comparable for short-term and long-term self-administration.

These steady changes in IEG expression are, therefore, associated with stable self-administration behaviour rather than the total amount of cocaine consumed. Thus, sustained impulses to IEG regulation during prolonged cocaine self-administration may evoke neuroplastic changes underlying compulsive drug use.

KEYWORDS: Cocaine self-administration; dorsal striatum; immediate early genes; prefrontal cortex; ventral striatum