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Neuropharmacology. 2012 Nov;63(6):927-35. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2012.06.010. Epub 2012 Jun 28.

Cocaine reverses the naltrexone-induced reduction in operant ethanol self-administration: the effects on immediate-early gene expression in the rat prefrontal cortex.

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Department of Psychobiology, Faculty of Psychology, Campus de Somosaguas, Complutense University, 28223 Madrid, Spain.


Naltrexone is a clinically approved medication for alcoholism. We aimed to investigate the effectiveness of naltrexone co-administered with cocaine and the association of these substances with immediate-early gene expression in the rat prefrontal cortex. We used chronic operant ethanol self-administration and oral treatments prescribed for alcoholism and available in pharmacies to maximise the predictive validity in humans. We performed real-time PCR analysis to determine gene expression levels in the prefrontal cortex. Only the highest dose of naltrexone (1, 3, and 10 mg/kg, p.o.) reduced the response to ethanol. Cocaine increased ethanol self-administration in a dose-dependent manner (2.5, 10, 20 mg/kg, i.p.) and reversed the naltrexone-induced reduction. Naltrexone failed to prevent the cocaine-induced increase in locomotor activity observed in these animals. Chronic self-administration of ethanol reduced the expression of the C-fos gene 4- to 12-fold and increased expression of the COX-2 (up to 4-fold) and Homer1a genes in the rat prefrontal cortex. Chronic ethanol self-administration is prevented by naltrexone, but cocaine fully reverses this effect. This result suggests that cocaine may overcome naltrexone's effectiveness as a treatment for alcoholism. The ethanol-induced reduction in C-fos gene expression in the prefrontal cortex reveals an abnormal activity of these neurons, which may be relevant in the compulsive consumption of ethanol, the control of reward-related areas and the behavioural phenotype of ethanol addiction.

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