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J Neurosci. 2019 Jun 12;39(24):4657-4667. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2233-18.2019. Epub 2019 Apr 8.

Cell-Type-Specific Regulation of Nucleus Accumbens Synaptic Plasticity and Cocaine Reward Sensitivity by the Circadian Protein, NPAS2.

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Translational Neuroscience Program, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15219, and.
Center for Systems Genetics of Addiction, The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine 04609.
Translational Neuroscience Program, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15219, and


The circadian transcription factor neuronal PAS domain 2 (NPAS2) is linked to psychiatric disorders associated with altered reward sensitivity. The expression of Npas2 is preferentially enriched in the mammalian forebrain, including the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a major neural substrate of motivated and reward behavior. Previously, we demonstrated that downregulation of NPAS2 in the NAc reduces the conditioned behavioral response to cocaine in mice. We also showed that Npas2 is preferentially enriched in dopamine receptor 1 containing medium spiny neurons (D1R-MSNs) of the striatum. To extend these studies, we investigated the impact of NPAS2 disruption on accumbal excitatory synaptic transmission and strength, along with the behavioral sensitivity to cocaine reward in a cell-type-specific manner. Viral-mediated knockdown of Npas2 in the NAc of male and female C57BL/6J mice increased the excitatory drive onto MSNs. Using Drd1a-tdTomato mice in combination with viral knockdown, we determined these synaptic adaptations were specific to D1R-MSNs relative to non-D1R-MSNs. Interestingly, NAc-specific knockdown of Npas2 blocked cocaine-induced enhancement of synaptic strength and glutamatergic transmission specifically onto D1R-MSNs. Last, we designed, validated, and used a novel Cre-inducible short-hairpin RNA virus for MSN-subtype-specific knockdown of Npas2 Cell-type-specific Npas2 knockdown in D1R-MSNs, but not D2R-MSNs, in the NAc reduced cocaine conditioned place preference. Together, our results demonstrate that NPAS2 regulates excitatory synapses of D1R-MSNs in the NAc and cocaine reward-related behavior.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Drug addiction is a widespread public health concern often comorbid with other psychiatric disorders. Disruptions of the circadian clock can predispose or exacerbate substance abuse in vulnerable individuals. We demonstrate a role for the core circadian protein, NPAS2, in mediating glutamatergic neurotransmission at medium spiny neurons (MSNs) in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a region critical for reward processing. We find that NPAS2 negatively regulates functional excitatory synaptic plasticity in the NAc and is necessary for cocaine-induced plastic changes in MSNs expressing the dopamine 1 receptor (D1R). We further demonstrate disruption of NPAS2 in D1R-MSNs produces augmented cocaine preference. These findings highlight the significance of cell-type-specificity in mechanisms underlying reward regulation by NPAS2 and extend our knowledge of its function.


circadian rhythms; cocaine; glutamatergic; nucleus accumbens; transcription factor

[Available on 2019-12-12]

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