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Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2008 Sep;90(3):349-56. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2008.03.019. Epub 2008 Apr 3.

Heroin self-administration: II. CNS gene expression following withdrawal and cue-induced drug-seeking behavior.

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Department of Pharmacology, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, R130, 500 University Drive, Hershey, PA 17033, USA.


In the accompanying paper, we described incubation of heroin-seeking behavior in rats following 14 days of abstinence. To gain an understanding of genomic changes that accompany this behavioral observation, we measured the expression of genes previously reported to respond to drugs of abuse. Specifically, after 1 or 14 days of abstinence, mRNA expression was measured for 11 genes in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) immediately following a single 90 min extinction session. Additionally, the role of contingency was examined in control rats that received yoked, response-independent heroin administration. Gene expression was quantified by real-time quantitative PCR. Expression of five genes (Arc, EGR1, EGR2, Fos, and Homer1b/c) was changed in the mPFC. EGR1 and EGR2 expression was increased following the 90 min extinction session in a contingency-specific manner and this increase persisted through the 14 days of abstinence. Fos expression was also increased after 1 and 14 days of abstinence, but at 14 days this increase was response-independent (i.e., it occurred in both the rats with a history of heroin self-administration and in the yoked controls). Arc expression increased following the extinction session only in rats with a history of heroin self-administration and only when tested following 1, but not 14, days of abstinence. Homer 1 b/c decreased after 14 days of enforced abstinence in rats that received non-contingent heroin. Expression of only a single gene (EGR2) was increased in the NAc. These data demonstrate that behavioral incubation is coincident with altered levels of specific transcripts and that this response is contingently-specific. Moreover, EGR1 and EGR2 are specifically upregulated in self-administering rats following extinction and this finding persists through 14 days of abstinence, suggesting that these genes are particularly associated with the incubation phenomenon. These latter observations of persistent changes in gene expression following abstinence may reflect molecular correlates of relapse liability.

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