Temporally dependent changes in cocaine-induced synaptic plasticity in the nucleus accumbens shell are reversed by D1-like dopamine receptor stimulation

Ortinski PI, Vassoler FM, Carlson GC, Pierce RC

Neuropsychopharmacology, 37:1671-1682

Dopaminergic and glutamatergic inputs to the nucleus accumbens shell have a central role in reward processing. Non-contingent cocaine administration generates a number of long-term AMPA receptor-dependent changes in synaptic efficacy. However, the synaptic consequences of cocaine self-administration and the potential role of dopamine in these processes remain unclear. Here, we examined the influence of D1 dopamine receptor (D1DR) activation on excitatory synaptic plasticity in the accumbens shell of adult rats following cocaine self-administration. Our results indicated that during the first 2 days following cocaine exposure both pre- and post-synaptic mechanisms contribute to a net decrease in AMPA receptor-mediated signaling. This is reflected by decreased frequency of miniature EPSCs (mEPSCs) attributable to enhanced cannabinoid receptor activity, decreased mEPSC amplitude, and increased paired-pulse ratio of evoked EPSCs. In contrast, the only changes observed in the shell 3-4 weeks following cocaine self-administration were increased mEPSCs amplitudes and AMPA/NMDA ratios. We further found that although these cocaine-induced neuroadaptations during early and late abstinence have different synaptic expression mechanisms, they were normalized by stimulation of D1DRs. Thus, pre-exposure to the D1DR agonist, SKF38393, during the initial period of abstinence increased excitatory synaptic strength, but reduced excitatory signaling after weeks of abstinence. Taken together, these results indicate that the direction of changes in excitatory transmission induced by cocaine self-administration switches over the first few weeks of abstinence. Moreover, D1DRs gate the stability of these cocaine-induced changes at glutamatergic synapses in the accumbens shell by utilizing multiple temporally distinct mechanisms, which has implications for the treatment of cocaine craving and addiction.