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Eur J Neurosci. 2004 Sep;20(6):1647-54.

The induction of behavioural sensitization is associated with cocaine-induced structural plasticity in the core (but not shell) of the nucleus accumbens.

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Department of Psychology (Biopsychology) and Neuroscience Program, The University of Michigan, East Hall, 525 East University, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1109, USA.


Repeated exposure to cocaine increases the density of dendritic spines on medium spiny neurons in the nucleus accumbens (Acb) and pyramidal cells in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). To determine if this is associated with the development of psychomotor sensitization, rats were given daily i.p. injections of 15 mg/kg of cocaine (or saline) for 8 days, either in their home cage (which failed to induce significant psychomotor sensitization) or in a distinct and relatively novel test cage (which induced robust psychomotor sensitization). Their brains were obtained 2 weeks after the last injection and processed for Golgi-Cox staining. In the Acb core (AcbC) cocaine treatment increased spine density only in the group that developed psychomotor sensitization (i.e. in the Novel but not Home group), and there was a significant positive correlation between the degree of psychomotor sensitization and spine density. In the Acb shell (AcbS) cocaine increased spine density to the same extent in both groups; i.e. independent of psychomotor sensitization. In the mPFC cocaine increased spine density in both groups, but to a significantly greater extent in the Novel group. Furthermore, when rats were treated at Home with a higher dose of cocaine (30 mg/kg), cocaine now induced psychomotor sensitization in this context, and also increased spine density in the AcbC. Thus, the context in which cocaine is experienced influences its ability to reorganize patterns of synaptic connectivity in the Acb and mPFC, and the induction of psychomotor sensitization is associated with structural plasticity in the AcbC and mPFC, but not the AcbS.

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