E3 Ubiquitin-Protein Ligase SMURF1 in the Nucleus Accumbens Mediates Cocaine Seeking

Craig T. Werner, Rathipriya Viswanathan, Jennifer A. Martin, Pedro H. Gobira, Swarup Mitra, Shruthi A. Thomas, Zi Jun Wang, Jian Feng Liu, Andrew F. Stewart, Rachael L. Neve, Jun Xu Li, Amy M. Gancarz, David M. Dietz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Substance use disorder is a neurobiological disease characterized by episodes of relapse despite periods of withdrawal. It is thought that neuroadaptations in discrete brain areas of the reward pathway, including the nucleus accumbens, underlie these aberrant behaviors. The ubiquitin–proteasome system degrades proteins and has been shown to be involved in cocaine-induced plasticity, but the role of E3 ubiquitin ligases, which conjugate ubiquitin to substrates, is unknown. Here, we examined E3 ubiquitin-protein ligase SMURF1 (SMURF1) in neuroadaptations and relapse behavior during withdrawal following cocaine self-administration. Methods: SMURF1 and downstream targets ras homolog gene family, member A (RhoA), SMAD1/5, and Runt-related transcript factor 2 were examined using Western blotting (n = 9–11/group), quantitative polymerase chain reaction (n = 6–9/group), co-immunoprecipitation (n = 9–11/group), tandem ubiquitin binding entities affinity purification (n = 5–6/group), and quantitative chromatin immunoprecipitation (n = 3–6/group) (2 rats/sample). Viral-mediated gene transfer (n = 7–12/group) and intra-accumbal microinjections (n = 9–10/group) were used to examine causal roles of SMURF1 and substrate RhoA, respectively, in cue-induced cocaine seeking. Results: SMURF1 protein expression was decreased, while SMURF1 substrates RhoA and SMAD1/5 were increased, in the nucleus accumbens on withdrawal day 7, but not on withdrawal day 1, following cocaine self-administration. Viral-mediated gene transfer of Smurf1 or constitutive activation of RhoA attenuated cue-induced cocaine seeking, while catalytically inactive Smurf1 enhanced cocaine seeking. Furthermore, SMURF1-regulated, SMAD1/5-associated transcription factor Runt-related transcript factor 2 displayed increased binding at promoter regions of genes previously associated with cocaine-induced plasticity. Conclusions: SMURF1 is a key mediator of neuroadaptations in the nucleus accumbens following cocaine exposure and mediates cue-induced cocaine seeking during withdrawal.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)881-892
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number12
StatePublished - 15 Dec 2018


  • Cocaine
  • Cue-induced cocaine seeking
  • E3 ubiquitin ligase
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Substance use disorder
  • Ubiquitin–proteasome system


Dive into the research topics of 'E3 Ubiquitin-Protein Ligase SMURF1 in the Nucleus Accumbens Mediates Cocaine Seeking'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this