New research by scientists at Michigan University show insight into way cocaine works in the brain, and how addiction loop might be broken
‘Researchers say cocaine alters the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s pleasure center that responds to stimuli such as food, sex, and drugs.
“Understanding what happens molecularly to this brain region during long-term exposure to drugs might give us insight into how addiction occurs,” says A. J. Robison, assistant professor in the department of physiology and the neuroscience program at Michigan State University.’
Published in The Journal of Neuroscience
Abstract : The transcription factor ΔFosB and the brain-enriched calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKIIα) are induced in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) by chronic exposure to cocaine or other psychostimulant drugs of abuse, in which the two proteins mediate sensitized drug responses. Although ΔFosB and CaMKIIα both regulate AMPA glutamate receptor expression and function in NAc, dendritic spine formation on NAc medium spiny neurons (MSNs), and locomotor sensitization to cocaine, no direct link between these molecules has to date been explored. Here, we demonstrate that ΔFosB is phosphorylated by CaMKIIα at the protein-stabilizing Ser27 and that CaMKII is required for the cocaine-mediated accumulation of ΔFosB in rat NAc. Conversely, we show that ΔFosB is both necessary and sufficient for cocaine induction of CaMKIIα gene expression in vivo, an effect selective for D1-type MSNs in the NAc shell subregion. Furthermore, induction of dendritic spines on NAc MSNs and increased behavioral responsiveness to cocaine after NAc overexpression of ΔFosB are both CaMKII dependent. Importantly, we demonstrate for the first time induction of ΔFosB and CaMKII in the NAc of human cocaine addicts, suggesting possible targets for future therapeutic intervention. These data establish that ΔFosB and CaMKII engage in a cell-type- and brain-region-specific positive feedforward loop as a key mechanism for regulating the reward circuitry of the brain in response to chronic cocaine.