Repeated cocaine exposure induces persistent, maladaptive changes in mesocorticolimbic glutamate transmission that are central to an addicted phenotype. Thus, likely molecular candidates contributing to the neuropathology of cocaine addiction are those regulating mesocorticolimbic glutamate transmission. Over the past 5 years, the Homer family of post-synaptic scaffolding proteins has emerged as a critical regulator of cocaine-induced changes in mesocorticolimbic glutamate and behavior that likely have relevance for the molecular underpinnings of hallmark features of addiction, such as relapse. A Homer1 polymorphism is significantly associated with cocaine addiction in humans and repeated cocaine administration, including excessive cocaine self-administration, alters mesocorticolimbic Homer mRNA and protein expression. Behavioral genetic studies indicated that a cocaine-induced increase in prefrontal cortex (PFC) Homer2 protein levels is sufficient, while a reduction in nucleus accumbens (NAC) Homer2 protein levels is both necessary and sufficient, for the expression of cocaine-seeking behavior, as assessed using place-preference paradigms. This project will extend these earlier data through a functional examination of the role for cocaine-induced changes in Homer2 expression within the dorsal and ventral PFC-NAC glutamate projections upon cocaine- paired cue-induced drug-seeking and associated changes in NAC glutamate during immediate, intermediate or protracted withdrawal from a period of excessive (40-60+ mg/kg/day) cocaine intake. Based on our previous immunoblotting and behavioral neurogenetics data, it is hypothesized that that excessive cocaine intake produces a time-dependent increase in PFC and decrease in NAC mGluR-Homer signaling pathways that underlie the intensification of drug-seeking during protracted withdrawal.
Specific Aim 1 of this proposal will employ immunoblotting and in vivo microdialysis to test the specific hypothesis that the time- dependent intensification of cocaine-seeking during withdrawal from excessive cocaine self-administration is associated with time-dependent increases in PFC and decreases in NAC Homer-mediated signaling pathways within the dorsal mesocorticolimbic circuit, resulting in abnormal mesocorticolimbic glutamate release.
Specific Aim 2 will employ site-directed viral-mediated gene delivery to examine the functional consequences of augmenting and preventing cocaine-induced changes in Homer2 within PFC-NAC projections for cocaine- paired cue-induced drug-seeking and NAC glutamate transmission. It is anticipated that the results obtained will greatly increase our understanding of the role for Homer2 in regulating excitatory glutamate transmission within the ventral and dorsal mesocorticolimbic subcircuits as it relates to time-dependent increases in relapse vulnerability. Such knowledge will point to cocaine-induced alterations in Homer2 regulation of both pre- and post-synaptic aspects of PFC-NAC glutamate transmission as critical neuroadaptations regulating the propensity to relapse during protracted withdrawal, which has high relevance for understanding addiction neuropathology and its treatment with glutamate-targeting pharmacotherapies.

Public Health Relevance

Repeated cocaine administration induces persistent, maladaptive changes in the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate within the dorsal and ventral mesocorticolimbic subcircuits and these neuroadaptations are central to relapse vulnerability during cocaine withdrawal. Thus, an understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in the protracted effects of excessive cocaine intake upon mesocorticolimbic glutamate transmission will assist in the identification of novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of addiction, as well as assist in screening at risk individuals or predicting individual treatment outcomes. To this end, this project will employ a combination of behavioral, neurochemical, genetic and immunological approaches to examine the role for Homer2-mediated signaling pathways within the dorsal and ventral mesocorticolimbic subcircuits in the intensification of cocaine-seeking observed during protracted withdrawal from excessive cocaine self- administration.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Project (R01)
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Neurobiology of Motivated Behavior Study Section (NMB)
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Frankenheim, Jerry
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University of California Santa Barbara
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Santa Barbara
United States
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