Ventral medial prefrontal cortex neuronal ensembles mediate context-induced relapse to heroin

Nat Neurosci. 2011 Apr;14(4):420-2. doi: 10.1038/nn.2758. Epub 2011 Feb 20.


In a rat model of context-induced relapse to heroin, we identified sparsely distributed ventral medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) neurons that were activated by the heroin-associated context. Selective pharmacogenetic inactivation of these neurons inhibited context-induced drug relapse. A small subset of ventral mPFC neurons formed neuronal ensembles that encode the learned associations between heroin reward and heroin-associated contexts; re-activation of these neuronal ensembles by drug-associated contexts during abstinence provoked drug relapse.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Heroin / toxicity*
  • Heroin Dependence / metabolism
  • Heroin Dependence / pathology*
  • Nerve Net / drug effects*
  • Nerve Net / pathology
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology*
  • Rats
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / metabolism
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / pathology*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Heroin