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Neuropharmacology. 2009;56 Suppl 1:177-85. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2008.04.022. Epub 2008 May 8.

Role of ventral medial prefrontal cortex in incubation of cocaine craving.

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Behavioral Neuroscience Branch, IRP/NIDA/NIH/DHHS, 251 Bayview Blvd, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA.


Cue-induced drug-seeking in rodents progressively increases after withdrawal from cocaine, suggesting that cue-induced cocaine craving incubates over time. Here, we explored the role of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC, a brain area previously implicated in cue-induced cocaine seeking) in this incubation. We trained rats to self-administer cocaine for 10days (6h/day, infusions were paired with a tone-light cue), and then assessed after 1 or 30 withdrawal days the effect of exposure to cocaine cues on lever presses in extinction tests. We found that cue-induced cocaine-seeking in the extinction tests was higher after 30 withdrawal days than after 1day. The time-dependent increases in extinction responding were associated with large (ventral mPFC) or modest (dorsal mPFC) increases in ERK phosphorylation (a measure of ERK activity and an index of neuronal activation). After 30 withdrawal days, ventral but not dorsal injections of muscimol+baclofen (GABAa+GABAb receptor agonists that inhibit neuronal activity) decreased extinction responding. After 1 withdrawal day, ventral but not dorsal mPFC injections of bicuculline+saclofen (GABAa+GABAb receptor antagonists that increase neuronal activity) strongly increased extinction responding. Finally, muscimol+baclofen had minimal effect on extinction responding after 1day, and in cocaine-experienced rats, ventral mPFC injections of muscimol+baclofen or bicuculline+saclofen had no effect on lever presses for an oral sucrose solution. The present results indicate that ventral mPFC neuronal activity plays an important role in the incubation of cocaine craving.

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