Regulation of AMPA Receptor Trafficking in the Nucleus Accumbens by Dopamine and Cocaine
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Nucleus accumbens (NAc) neurons are excited primarily by AMPA-type glutamate receptors (AMPAR). This is required for cocaine seeking in animal models of cocaine addiction, suggesting AMPAR transmission in the NAc as a key control point for cocaine-related behaviors. This review will briefly describe AMPAR properties and trafficking, with a focus on studies in NAc neurons, and then consider mechanisms by which cocaine may alter AMPAR transmission. Two examples will be discussed that may be important in two different stages of addiction: learning about drugs and drug-related cues during the period of drug exposure, and persistent vulnerability to craving and relapse after abstinence is achieved. The first example is drawn from studies of cultured NAc neurons. Elevation of dopamine levels (as would occur following cocaine exposure) facilitates activity-dependent strengthening of excitatory synapses onto medium spiny neurons, the main cell type and projection neuron of the NAc. This occurs because activation of D1-class dopamine receptors primes AMPAR for synaptic insertion. This may create a temporal window in which stimuli related to cocaine-taking are more efficacious at eliciting synaptic plasticity and thus being encoded into memory. The second example involves rat models of cocaine addiction. Cell surface and synaptic expression of AMPAR on NAc neurons is persistently increased after withdrawal from repeated cocaine exposure. We hypothesize that this increases the reactivity of NAc neurons to glutamate inputs from cortex and limbic structures, facilitating the ability of these inputs to trigger cocaine seeking and thus contributing to the persistent vulnerability to relapse that characterizes addiction.