Reinforcement-Related Regulation of AMPA Glutamate Receptor Subunits in the Ventral Tegmental Area Enhances Motivation for Cocaine

Department of Psychiatry, The Seay Center for Basic and Applied Research in Psychiatric Illness, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas 75390-9070, USA.
The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 6.75). 05/2011; 31(21):7927-37. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6014-10.2011
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Chronic cocaine use produces numerous biological changes in brain, but relatively few are functionally associated with cocaine reinforcement. Here we show that daily intravenous cocaine self-administration, but not passive cocaine administration, induces dynamic upregulation of the AMPA glutamate receptor subunits GluR1 and GluR2 in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of rats. Increases in GluR1 protein and GluR1(S845) phosphorylation are associated with increased GluR1 mRNA in self-administering animals, whereas increased GluR2 protein levels occurred despite substantial decreases in GluR2 mRNA. We investigated the functional significance of GluR1 upregulation in the VTA on cocaine self-administration using localized viral-mediated gene transfer. Overexpression of GluR1(WT) in rat VTA primarily infected dopamine neurons (75%) and increased AMPA receptor-mediated membrane rectification in these neurons with AMPA application. Similar GluR1(WT) overexpression potentiated locomotor responses to intra-VTA AMPA, but not NMDA, infusions. In cocaine self-administering animals, overexpression of GluR1(WT) in the VTA markedly increased the motivation for cocaine injections on a progressive ratio schedule of cocaine reinforcement. In contrast, overexpression of protein kinase A-resistant GluR1(S845A) in the VTA reduced peak rates of cocaine self-administration on a fixed ratio reinforcement schedule. Neither viral vector altered sucrose self-administration, and overexpression of GluR1(WT) or GluR1(S845A) in the adjacent substantia nigra had no effect on cocaine self-administration. Together, these results suggest that dynamic regulation of AMPA receptors in the VTA during cocaine self-administration contributes to cocaine addiction by acting to facilitate subsequent cocaine use.

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