Previous studies suggest that pharmacological or molecular activation of the nucleus accumbens shell (AcbSh) facilitates extinction of cocaine-seeking behavior. However, overexpression of CREB, which increases excitability of AcbSh neurons, enhances cocaine-seeking behavior while producing depression-like behavior in tests of mood. These discrepancies may reflect activity in differential AcbSh outputs, including those to the lateral hypothalamus (LH), a target region known to influence addictive behavior and mood. Presently, it is unknown whether there is a causal link between altered activity in the AcbSh-LH pathway and changes in the motivation for cocaine. In this study, we used an optogenetics approach to either globally stimulate AcbSh neurons or to selectively stimulate AcbSh terminal projections in the LH, in rats self-administering cocaine. We found that stimulation of the AcbSh-LH pathway enhanced the motivation to self-administer cocaine in progressive ratio testing, and led to long-lasting facilitation of cocaine-seeking behavior during extinction tests conducted after withdrawal from cocaine self-administration. In contrast, global AcbSh stimulation reduced extinction responding. We compared these opposing motivational effects with effects on mood using the forced swim test, where both global AcbSh neuron and selective AcbSh-LH terminal stimulation facilitated depression-like behavioral despair. Together, these findings suggest that the AcbSh neurons convey complex, pathway-specific modulation of addiction and depression-like behavior, and that these motivation and mood phenomenon are dissociable.
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