Addictive behaviors, including relapse, are thought to depend in part on long-lasting drug-induced adaptations in dendritic spine signaling and morphology in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). While the influence of activity-dependent actin remodeling in these phenomena has been studied extensively, the role of microtubules and associated proteins remains poorly understood. We report that pharmacological inhibition of microtubule polymerization in the NAc inhibited locomotor sensitization to cocaine and contextual reward learning. We then investigated the roles of microtubule end-binding protein 3 (EB3) and SRC kinase in the neuronal and behavioral responses to volitionally administered cocaine. In synaptoneurosomal fractions from the NAc of self-administering male rats, the phosphorylation of SRC at an activating site was induced after 1 d of withdrawal, while EB3 levels were increased only after 30 d of withdrawal. Blocking SRC phosphorylation during early withdrawal by virally overexpressing SRCIN1, a negative regulator of SRC activity known to interact with EB3, abolished the incubation of cocaine craving in both male and female rats. Conversely, mimicking the EB3 increase observed after prolonged withdrawal increased the motivation to consume cocaine in male rats. In mice, the overexpression of either EB3 or SRCIN1 increased dendritic spine density and altered the spine morphology of NAc medium spiny neurons. Finally, a cocaine challenge after prolonged withdrawal recapitulated most of the synaptic protein expression profiles observed at early withdrawal. These findings suggest that microtubule-associated signaling proteins such as EB3 cooperate with actin remodeling pathways, notably SRC kinase activity, to establish and maintain long-lasting cellular and behavioral alterations following cocaine self-administration.
- Dendritic spines
- Nucleus accumbens