J Neurosci. 2019 Apr 4. pii: 3020-17. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3020-17.2019.
Understanding the neurobiological processes that incite drug craving and drive relapse has the potential to help target efforts to treat addiction. The nucleus accumbens (NAc) serves as a critical substrate for reward and motivated behavior, in part due to alterations in excitatory synaptic strength within cortical-accumbens pathways. The present studies investigated a causal link between cocaine-induced reinstatement of conditioned place preference and rapid reductions of cocaine-dependent increases in NAc shell synaptic strength in male mice. Cocaine conditioned place preference behavior and ex vivo whole-cell electrophysiology showed that cocaine-primed reinstatement and synaptic depotentiation were disrupted by inhibiting AMPAR internalization via intra-NAc shell infusion of a Tat-GluA23Y peptide. Furthermore, reinstatement was driven by an mGluR5-dependent reduction in AMPAR signaling. Intra-NAc shell infusion of the mGluR5 antagonist MTEP blocked cocaine-primed reinstatement and corresponding depotentiation, while infusion of the mGluR5 agonist CHPG itself promoted reinstatement and depotentiated synaptic strength in the NAc shell. Optogenetic examination of circuit-specific plasticity showed that inhibition of infralimbic cortical input to the NAc shell blocked cocaine-primed reinstatement, while low frequency stimulation (10 Hz) of this pathway in the absence of cocaine triggered a reduction in synaptic strength akin to that observed with cocaine, and was sufficient to promote reinstatement in the absence of a cocaine challenge. These data support a model in which mGluR5-mediated reduction in GluA2-containing AMPARs at NAc shell synapses receiving input from the infralimbic cortex is a critical factor in triggering reinstatement of cocaine-primed conditioned approach behavior.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTThese studies identified a sequence of neural events whereby re-exposure to cocaine activates a signaling cascade that alters synaptic strength in the nucleus accumbens shell and triggers a behavioral response driven by a drug-associated memory.