Repeated exposure to drugs of abuse alters the structure and function of neural circuits mediating reward, generating maladaptive plasticity in circuits critical for motivated behavior. Within meso-corticolimbic dopamine circuitry, repeated exposure to cocaine induces progressive alterations in AMPAR-mediated glutamatergic synaptic transmission. During a 10–14 day period of abstinence from cocaine, AMPAR signaling is potentiated at synapses on nucleus accumbens (NAc) medium spiny neurons (MSNs), promoting a state of heightened synaptic excitability. Re-exposure to cocaine during abstinence, however, rapidly reverses and depotentiates enhanced AMPAR signaling. To understand how re-exposure to cocaine alters AMPAR synaptic transmission, we investigated the roles of dopamine and endocannabinoid (eCB) signaling in modifying synaptic strength in the NAc shell. Using patch-clamp recordings from NAc slices prepared after 10–14 days of abstinence from repeated cocaine, we found that AMPAR-mediated depotentiation is rapidly induced in the NAc shell within 20 min of cocaine re-exposure ex vivo, and persists for up to five days before synapses return to levels of potentiation observed during abstinence. In cocaine-treated animals, global dopamine receptor activation was both necessary and sufficient for the cocaine-evoked depotentiation of AMPAR synaptic function. Additionally, we identified that CB1 receptors are engaged by endogenous endocannabinoids (eCBs) during re-exposure to cocaine ex vivo. Overall, these results indicate the central role that dopamine and eCB signaling mechanisms play in modulating cocaine-induced AMPAR plasticity in the NAc shell.
Available for download on Friday, March 15, 2019