Drug addiction is a serious and prolific mental illness involving persistent relapse despite sincere efforts to abstain. This research studies the neurobiological mechanisms that increase the propensity for relapse after prolonged abstinence to determine novel targets for potential therapeutic intervention to promote abstinence. Previous studies suggest that mu opiate receptor stimulation in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) does not play a role in cocaine-seeking behavior using rodent models of cocaine relapse. However, we found that NAc infusions of the endogenous opiate beta-endorphinwill trigger cocaine seeking primarily via activation of mu opiate receptors (MOR1) in the NAc. Importantly, we found that MOR1 expression in the NAc progressively increases from early to late cocaine withdrawal, coinciding with time-dependent increases (incubation) in cocaine-seeking behavior. Moreover, our preliminary data suggest that increases in MOR1 expression in the NAc are paralleled by increased expression of the beta-endorphinprecursor proopiomelanocortin (POMC) in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (Arc). The goal of the proposed research is to study the functional contribution of neuroadaptations in these endogenous opiate systems to the increased propensity for relapse in long-term cocaine withdrawal. Studies in Aim I will determine the ability of MOR1 stimulation in the NAc to trigger relapse behavior after early and late withdrawal from chronic cocaine self-administration. Intra-NAc infusions of beta-endorphinand the MOR1 agonist DAMGO will be tested for their ability to increase relapse behavior in both extinction and reinstatement phases of experimentation. Similar intra-NAc infusions of DAMGO will be used to assess MOR1 signaling in vivo as a biochemical parallel to behavioral experiments. Studies in Aim II will use in situ hybridization to measure POMC expression in the Arc, and In Gel Western Blot of beta-endorphinlevels in the Arc and NAc, after both early and late withdrawal times. The contribution of increased POMC expression and beta-endorphin synthesis to the propensity for relapse will be studied by neutralizing endogenous beta-endorphinrelease in the NAc with anti-beta-endorphin and the MOR1 antagonist CTAP in extinction/reinstatement tests. Stressful situations activate POMC neurons in the Arc, and trigger cocaine-seeking behavior, but the role of POMC neurons in relapse behavior has not been studied. Studies in Aim III will investigate the effects of selective activation of POMC Arc neurons on cocaine seeking in early and late withdrawal using an optogenetic approach combining inducible viral vector-mediated channel-rhodopsin-2 expression in mice expressing Cre recombinase under POMC promoter control. The role of beta-endorphinrelease in the NAc in relapse induced by activation of POMC neurons will be assessed with intra-NAc infusions of anti-beta-endorphin. Together, these studies will determine the role of persistent neuroadaptations in endogenous mu opiate receptor systems in the increased propensity for cocaine relapse in prolonged abstinence.

Public Health Relevance

Drug addiction is a serious mental illness involving severe motivational disturbances and loss of behavioral control leading to personal devastation. The disease afflicts millions of people with enormous social and economic costs to society. The goal of this research is to better understand the biological basis of the disease, and to identify major biological targets for potential therapeutic intervention to promote abstinence.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Neurobiology of Motivated Behavior Study Section (NMB)
Program Officer
Frankenheim, Jerry
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Texas Sw Medical Center Dallas
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Nugent, Alexandria L; Anderson, Ethan M; Larson, Erin B et al. (2017) Incubation of cue-induced reinstatement of cocaine, but not sucrose, seeking in C57BL/6J mice. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 159:12-17
Larson, Erin B; Wissman, Anne M; Loriaux, Amy L et al. (2015) Optogenetic stimulation of accumbens shell or shell projections to lateral hypothalamus produce differential effects on the motivation for cocaine. J Neurosci 35:3537-43
Self, David W (2014) Diminished role for dopamine D1 receptors in cocaine addiction? Biol Psychiatry 76:2-3
Hobson, Benjamin D; O'Neill, Casey E; Levis, Sophia C et al. (2013) Adenosine A1 and dopamine d1 receptor regulation of AMPA receptor phosphorylation and cocaine-seeking behavior. Neuropsychopharmacology 38:1974-83
Ozburn, Angela Renee; Larson, Erin Beth; Self, David W et al. (2012) Cocaine self-administration behaviors in Clock?19 mice. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 223:169-77
Larson, Erin B; Graham, Danielle L; Arzaga, Rose R et al. (2011) Overexpression of CREB in the nucleus accumbens shell increases cocaine reinforcement in self-administering rats. J Neurosci 31:16447-57
Larson, Erin B; Akkentli, Fatih; Edwards, Scott et al. (2010) Striatal regulation of ?FosB, FosB, and cFos during cocaine self-administration and withdrawal. J Neurochem 115:112-22