Chronic cocaine use reduces glutamate levels in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), and is associated with experience-dependent changes in (±)-α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid (AMPA) glutamate receptor membrane expression in NAc neurons. These changes accompany behavioral sensitization to cocaine and increased susceptibility to cocaine relapse. The functional relationship between neuroplasticity in AMPA receptors and the behavioral manifestation of cocaine addiction remains unclear. Thus, we examined the behavioral effects of up- and downregulating basal AMPA receptor function in the NAc core and shell using viral-mediated gene transfer of wild-type glutamate receptor 1 (wt-GluR1) or a dominant-negative pore-dead GluR1 (pd-GluR1), respectively. Transient increases in wt-GluR1 during or after cocaine treatments diminished the development of cocaine sensitization, while pd-GluR1 expression exacerbated cocaine sensitization. Parallel changes were found in D2, but not D1, receptor-mediated behavioral responses. As a correlate of the sensitization experiments, we overexpressed wt- or pd-GluR1 in the NAc core during cocaine self-administration, and tested the effects on subsequent drug-seeking behavior 3 weeks after overexpression declined. wt-GluR1 overexpression during self-administration had no effect on cocaine intake, but subsequently reduced cocaine seeking in extinction and cocaine-induced reinstatement, whereas pd-GluR1 facilitated cocaine-induced reinstatement. When overexpressed during reinstatement tests, wt-GluR1 directly attenuated cocaine- and D2 agonist-induced reinstatement, while pd-GluR1 enhanced reinstatement. In both experimental procedures, neither wt- nor pd-GluR1 expression affected cue-induced reinstatement. Together, these results suggest that degrading basal AMPA receptor function in NAc neurons is sufficient to facilitate relapse via sensitization in D2 receptor responses, whereas elevating basal AMPA receptor function attenuates these behaviors.
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