Background: Drugs of abuse elevate brain dopamine levels, and, in vivo, chronic drug use is accompanied by a selective decrease in dopamine D2 receptor (D2R) availability in the brain. Such a decrease consequently alters the ratio of D1R:D2R signaling towards the D1R. Despite a plethora of behavioral studies dedicated to the understanding of the role of dopamine in addiction, a molecular mechanism responsible for the downregulation of the D2R, in vivo, in response to chronic drug use has yet to be identified.
Methods and findings: ETHICS STATEMENT: All animal work was approved by the Gallo Center IACUC committee and was performed in our AAALAC approved facility. In this study, we used wild type (WT) and G protein coupled receptor associated sorting protein-1 (GASP-1) knock out (KO) mice to assess molecular changes that accompany cocaine sensitization. Here, we show that downregulation of D2Rs or upregulation of D1Rs is associated with a sensitized locomotor response to an acute injection of cocaine. Furthermore, we demonstrate that disruption of GASP-1, that targets D2Rs for degradation after endocytosis, prevents cocaine-induced downregulation of D2Rs. As a consequence, mice with a GASP-1 disruption show a reduction in the sensitized locomotor response to cocaine.
Conclusions: Together, our data suggests that changes in the ratio of the D1:D2R could contribute to cocaine-induced behavioral plasticity and demonstrates a role of GASP-1 in regulating both the levels of the D2R and cocaine sensitization.