Dysregulation of glutamate signaling is a core component of the pathological basis of drug addiction involving cocaine and many other substances. Recent progress in neuroscience and other fields clearly establishes that the molecular and cellular basis of glutamate-encoded signaling is vastly more complex than previously recognized. In particular, it is becoming increasingly evident that astrocytes, which are among the most abundant cells in the human brain, release glutamate to produce complex regulation over neural circuit activity. This novel form of glutamate-encoded intercellular signaling may be critical to understanding the pathological glutamate produced by long-term drug use since astrocytic glutamate release mechanisms, such as system xc- (Sxc), are altered by cocaine. While these discoveries raise numerous questions that may be essential in understanding glutamate signaling in the human brain, this proposal will focus on the question, how do neurons regulate glutamate release from astrocytes to control neural network activity and behaviors relevant to cocaine addiction. We will test the hypothesis that this is achieved by the actions of the neuropeptide pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP), which we believe to be an unrecognized component of glutamate signaling in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). In support, we have found that A) PACAP mRNA is expressed in NAc afferents, B) PACAP receptors are expressed in NAc astrocytes and neurons projecting to the substantia nigra (SN) but not the ventral pallidum (VP), C) PACAP stimulates glutamate release from astrocytes by increasing the activity of system xc- (Sxc), D) PACAP application depresses eEPSCs in NAc medium spiny neurons (MSNs) projecting to the substantia nigra (SN) but not the ventral pallidum, and E) intra-NAc micro-infusion of PACAP blocks cocaine reinstatement. In this proposal, we will test the hypothesis that PACAP is a neuropeptide that regulates glutamate release from astrocytes and glutamate receptors on neurons to provide a novel form of pathway-specific regulation of NAc efferent pathways.
In Aim 1, we will examine the molecular basis of PACAP-induced increases in Sxc activity and determine whether Sxc regulation is necessary for PACAP to depress eEPSCs in NAc-SN MSNs and block cocaine reinstatement. In this aim, we will also examine if PACAP increases glutamate from astrocytic release mechanisms other than Sxc.
In Aim 2, we will examine the possibility that the form of astrocyte-neuron signaling triggered by PACAP require the regulation of neuronal glutamate receptors to produce the relevant changes in physiology that gate the output of NAc efferents and behavior. We will also explore whether PACAP alters presynaptic glutamate release.
In Aim 3, we will investigate the role of endogenous PACAP to learn whether this neuropeptide is an unrecognized component of glutamate signaling in the NAc, and whether it is a key determinant of drug- seeking behavior.
The modern substance abuse crisis renders the identification of the pathological basis of addiction as one of the highest priorities in neuroscience. Central to this effort will be understanding the functional roles of the brain's most ubiquitous extracellular signal and how it is altered by long-term drug use. Our proposal builds on recent advances in neuroscience and will examine novel functional roles for glutamate in a manner that could lead to new opportunities to rationally design disease-modifying therapeutics.