Helsingin yliopisto


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University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Glutamatergic Modulation of Cue-Induced Drug-Seeking Behavior in the Rat

Pia Bäckström

Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Biosciences, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences and National Public Health Institute, Department of Mental Health and Alcohol Research, Helsinki.

The characteristics of drug addiction include compulsive drug use despite negative consequences and re-occurring relapses, returns to drug use after a period of abstinence. Therefore, relapse prevention is one of the major challenges for the treatment of drug addiction. There are three main factors capable of inducing craving for drugs and triggering relapse long after cessation of drug use and dissipation of physical withdrawal signs: stress, re-exposure to the drug, and environmental stimuli (cues) that have been previously associated with drug use.

The neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate have been implicated in the modulation of drug-seeking behavior. The aim of this project was to examine the role of glutamatergic neurotransmission in relapse triggered by conditioned drug-associated stimuli. The focus was on clarifying whether relapse to drug seeking can be attenuated by blockade of glutamate receptors. In addition, as the nucleus accumbens has been proposed to participate in the modulation of drug-seeking behavior, the effects of glutamate receptor blockade in this brain structure on cue-induced relapse were investigated.

The studies employed animals models in which rats were trained to press a lever in a test cage to obtain alcohol or intravenous cocaine. Drug availability was paired with distinct olfactory, auditory, or visual stimuli. This phase was followed by extinction training, during which lever presses did not result in the presentation of the drug or the drug-associated stimuli. Extinction training led to a gradual decrease in the number of lever presses during test sessions. Relapse was triggered by presenting the rats with the drug-associated stimuli in the absence of alcohol or cocaine. The drug-associated stimuli were alone capable of inducing resumption of lever pressing and maintaining this behavior during repeated testing. The number of lever presses during a session represented the intensity of drug-seeking and relapse behavior.

The results suggest that glutamatergic neurotransmission is involved in the modulation of drug-seeking behavior. Both alcohol and cocaine relapse were attenuated by systemic pretreatment with glutamate receptor antagonists. However, differences were found in the ability of ionotropic AMPA/kainate and NMDA receptor antagonists to regulate drug-seeking behavior. The AMPA/kainate antagonists CNQX and NBQX, and L-701,324, an antagonist with affinity for the glycine site of the NMDA receptor, attenuated cue-induced drug seeking, whereas the competitive NMDA antagonist CGP39551 and the NMDA channel blocker MK-801 were without effect. MPEP, an antagonist at metabotropic mGlu5 glutamate receptors, also decreased drug seeking, but its administration was found to lead to conditioned suppression of behavior during subsequent treatment sessions, suggesting that MPEP may have undesirable side effects. The mGluR2/3 agonist LY379268 and the mGluR8 agonist (S)-3,4-DCPG decreased both cue-induced relapse to alcohol drinking and alcohol consumption. Control experiments showed however that administration of the agonists was accompanied by motor suppression limiting their usefulness.

Administration of the AMPA/kainate antagonist CNQX, the NMDA antagonist D-AP5, and the mGluR5 antagonist MPEP into the nucleus accumbens resulted also in a decrease in drug-seeking behavior, suggesting that the nucleus accumbens is at least one of the anatomical sites regulating drug seeking and mediating the effects of glutamate receptor antagonists on this behavior.

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Last updated 03.11.2006

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