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J Neurosci. 2009 Apr 15;29(15):4846-57. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0563-09.2009.

A role for the endocannabinoid system in the increased motivation for cocaine in extended-access conditions.

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Committee on Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.


Extended access to cocaine produces an increase in cocaine self-administration in rats that mimics aspects of compulsive drug intake in human addicts. Although emerging evidence implicates the endogenous cannabinoid system in aspects of opioid and ethanol addiction, a role of the endocannabinoid system in cocaine addiction remains widely inconclusive. Here, we investigate the effects of systemic and intra-accumbal administration of the CB1 antagonist SR141716A (Rimonabant) on cocaine self-administration (0.5 mg/kg/infusion) under a progressive ratio (PR) schedule in rats with extended [long access (LgA); 6 h/d] or limited [short access (ShA); 1 h/d] access to cocaine. LgA rats, but not ShA rats, showed an increase in cocaine intake as previously reported, and responding for cocaine by LgA rats was higher than in ShA rats under a PR schedule. Systemic SR141716A induced a dramatic dose-dependent decrease in the breakpoint for cocaine by LgA rats, whereas only the highest dose of the antagonist had a significant effect in the ShA group. Anandamide levels in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) shell were decreased in ShA rats but unchanged in LgA rats during cocaine self-administration. Both phosphorylated and total CB1 receptor protein expression were upregulated in LgA rats in the NAc and the amygdala compared with ShA and drug-naive rats, 24 h after last cocaine session. Finally, intra-NAc infusions of SR141716A reduced cocaine breakpoints selectively in LgA animals. These results suggest that neuroadaptations in the endogenous cannabinoid system may be part of the neuroplasticity associated with the development of cocaine addiction.

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