Background: Previous studies found that brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) derived from nucleus accumbens (NAc) neurons can mediate persistent behavioral changes that contribute to cocaine addiction.
Methods: To further investigate BDNF signaling in the mesolimbic dopamine system, we analyzed tropomyosin-related kinase B (TrkB) messenger RNA (mRNA) and protein changes in the NAc and ventral tegmental area (VTA) in rats following 3 weeks of cocaine self-administration. To study the role of BDNF-TrkB activity in the VTA and NAc in cocaine reward, we used localized viral-mediated Cre recombinase expression in floxed BDNF and floxed TrkB mice to knockdown BDNF or TrkB in the VTA and NAc in cocaine place conditioning tests and TrkB in the NAc in cocaine self-administration tests.
Results: We found that 3 weeks of active cocaine self-administration significantly increased TrkB protein levels in the NAc shell, while yoked (passive) cocaine exposure produced a similar increase in the VTA. Localized BDNF knockdown in either region reduced cocaine reward in place conditioning, whereas only TrkB knockdown in the NAc reduced cocaine reward. In mice self-administering cocaine, TrkB knockdown in the NAc produced a downward shift in the cocaine self-administration dose-response curve but had no effect on the acquisition of cocaine or sucrose self-administration.
Conclusions: Together, these data suggest that BDNF synthesized in either VTA or NAc neurons is important for maintaining sensitivity to cocaine reward but only BDNF activation of TrkB receptors in the NAc mediates this effect. In addition, up-regulation of NAc TrkB with chronic cocaine use could promote the transition to more addicted biological states.