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Biol Psychiatry. 2017 Apr 1;81(7):564-572. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.10.024. Epub 2016 Oct 28.

A Role for Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma Coactivator-1α in Nucleus Accumbens Neuron Subtypes in Cocaine Action.

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Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.
Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension, The George Washington University, Washington, District of Columbia.
Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland. Electronic address:



Molecules critically involved in cocaine behavioral plasticity are known to regulate and interact with peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator-1α (PGC-1α). In addition, the PGC-1α promoter has binding sites for early growth response 3 (Egr3), which plays a dynamic role in cocaine action in nucleus accumbens (NAc) medium spiny neuron (MSN) subtypes, those enriched in dopamine receptor D1 (D1-MSN) versus D2 (D2-MSN). However, the role of PGC-1α in NAc in cocaine action is unknown.


PGC-1α messenger RNA and protein were examined in NAc after repeated cocaine exposure. Binding of Egr3 to and histone methylation at the PGC-1α promoter was examined in NAc using chromatin immunoprecipitation after repeated cocaine. PGC-1α ribosome-associated messenger RNA in MSN subtypes was assessed after repeated cocaine using D1-Cre-RiboTag and D2-Cre-RiboTag lines. Finally, PGC-1α was expressed in NAc D1-MSNs versus D2-MSNs using a Cre-inducible adeno-associated virus and Cre lines during cocaine conditioned place preference and cocaine-induced locomotion.


Repeated cocaine increased PGC-1α levels and increased Egr3 binding and H3K4me3 at the PGC-1α promoter in NAc. Increased PGC-1α occurred in D1-MSNs, while D2-MSNs showed reduced levels. Viral-mediated expression of PGC-1α in D1-MSNs enhanced behavioral responses to cocaine, while expression in D2-MSNs blunted these behaviors.


We demonstrate a novel role for PGC-1α in NAc in cocaine action. PGC-1α is enhanced in NAc D1-MSNs, specifically after cocaine exposure. These data are consistent with increased active methylation and Egr3 binding at the PGC-1α promoter. Finally, we demonstrate a bidirectional role for PGC-1α in mediating behavioral plasticity to cocaine through D1-MSNs versus D2-MSNs.


Cocaine; Epigenetics; MSN subtype; Nucleus accumbens; PGC-1α; RiboTag

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