Cocaine dynamically regulates heterochromatin and repetitive element unsilencing in nucleus accumbens

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Feb 15;108(7):3035-40. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015483108. Epub 2011 Feb 7.


Repeated cocaine exposure induces persistent alterations in genome-wide transcriptional regulatory networks, chromatin remodeling activity and, ultimately, gene expression profiles in the brain's reward circuitry. Virtually all previous investigations have centered on drug-mediated effects occurring throughout active euchromatic regions of the genome, with very little known concerning the impact of cocaine exposure on the regulation and maintenance of heterochromatin in adult brain. Here, we report that cocaine dramatically and dynamically alters heterochromatic histone H3 lysine 9 trimethylation (H3K9me3) in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a key brain reward region. Furthermore, we demonstrate that repeated cocaine exposure causes persistent decreases in heterochromatization in this brain region, suggesting a potential role for heterochromatic regulation in the long-term actions of cocaine. To identify precise genomic loci affected by these alterations, chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by massively parallel DNA sequencing (ChIP-Seq) was performed on NAc. ChIP-Seq analyses confirmed the existence of the H3K9me3 mark mainly within intergenic regions of the genome and identified specific patterns of cocaine-induced H3K9me3 regulation at repetitive genomic sequences. Cocaine-mediated decreases in H3K9me3 enrichment at specific genomic repeats [e.g., long interspersed nuclear element (LINE)-1 repeats] were further confirmed by the increased expression of LINE-1 retrotransposon-associated repetitive elements in NAc. Such increases likely reflect global patterns of genomic destabilization in this brain region after repeated cocaine administration and open the door for future investigations into the epigenetic and genetic basis of drug addiction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Blotting, Western
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Cocaine / toxicity*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / metabolism*
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Gene Regulatory Networks / drug effects*
  • Genomic Instability / drug effects*
  • Heterochromatin / drug effects
  • Heterochromatin / metabolism*
  • Histones / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Long Interspersed Nucleotide Elements / genetics
  • Lysine / metabolism
  • Methylation / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Models, Statistical
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reward
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA Primers
  • Heterochromatin
  • Histones
  • Cocaine
  • Lysine

Associated data

  • GENBANK/GSE24850