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J Physiol. 2012 May 15;590(10):2427-42. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.225219. Epub 2012 Mar 5.

Investigation of the neuroanatomical substrates of reward seeking following protracted abstinence in mice.

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Florey Neuroscience Institutes, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic, Australia, 3010.


Persistent vulnerability to relapse represents a major challenge in the treatment of drug addiction. The brain circuitry that underlies relapse-like behaviour can be investigated using animal models of drug seeking. As yet there have been no comprehensive brain mapping studies that have specifically examined the neuroanatomical substrates of cue-induced opiate seeking following abstinence in a mouse operant paradigm. The aim of this study was to compare the brain regions involved in sucrose vs. morphine seeking following protracted abstinence in mice. Male CD1 mice were trained to respond for either sucrose (10% w/v) or intravenous morphine (0.1 mg kg(-1) per infusion) in an operant paradigm in the presence of a discrete cue. Once stable responding was established, mice were subjected to abstinence in their home cages for 3 weeks and then perfused for tissue collection, or returned to the operant chambers to assess cue-induced reward seeking before being perfused for tissue collection. Brain tissue was processed for Fos immunohistochemistry and Fos expression was quantified in a range of brain nuclei. We identified unique patterns of neuronal activation for sucrose and morphine seeking mice as well as some overlap. Structures activated in both ‘relapse' groups included the anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens shell, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, substantia nigra pars compacta, ventral tegmental area, hippocampus, periaqueductal grey, locus coeruleus and lateral habenula. Structures that were more activated in morphine seeking mice included the nucleus accumbens core, basolateral amygdala, substantia nigra pars reticulata, and the central nucleus of the amygdala. The dorsal raphe was the only structure examined that was specifically activated in sucrose seeking mice. Overall our findings support a cortico-striatal limbic circuit driving opiate seeking, and we have identified some additional circuitry potentially relevant to reward seeking following abstinence.

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