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Genes Brain Behav. 2013 Aug;12(6):658-65. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12057. Epub 2013 Jul 17.

The expression of MC4Rs in D1R neurons regulates food intake and locomotor sensitization to cocaine.

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Department of Psychiatry, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX, USA.


While it is known that mice lacking melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R) expression develop hyperphagia resulting in early-onset obesity, the specific neural circuits that mediate this process remain unclear. Here, we report that selective restoration of MC4R expression within dopamine-1 receptor-expressing neurons [MC4R/dopamine 1 receptor (D1R) mice] partially blunts the severe obesity seen in MC4R-null mice by decreasing meal size, but not meal frequency, in the dark cycle. We also report that both acute cocaine-induced anorexia and the development of locomotor sensitization to repeated administration of cocaine are blunted in MC4R-null mice and normalized in MC4R/D1R mice. Neuronal retrograde tracing identifies the lateral hypothalamic area as the primary target of MC4R-expressing neurons in the nucleus accumbens. Biochemical studies in the ventral striatum show that phosphorylation of DARPP-32(Thr) (-34) and GluR1(Ser) (-845) is diminished in MC4R-null mice after chronic cocaine administration but rescued in MC4R/D1R mice. These findings highlight a physiological role of MC4R-mediated signaling within D1R neurons in the long-term regulation of energy balance and behavioral responses to cocaine.


Cocaine; dopamine-1 receptor; food intake; locomotor sensitization; melanocortin 4 receptor; obesity

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