Propensity to 'relapse' following exposure to cocaine cues is associated with the recruitment of specific thalamic and epithalamic nuclei

Neuroscience. 2011 Dec 29;199:235-42. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.09.047. Epub 2011 Sep 28.


The thalamus is considered an important interface between the ventral striatopallidum and the dorsal striatum, and may therefore contribute to compulsive drug-seeking behaviour. Recent evidence suggests that the paraventricular thalamus (PVT), a dorsal midline thalamic nucleus, and the mediodorsal thalamus (MD) are involved in drug self-administration and respond to drug-associated cues. At present, however, the role of these thalamic regions in mediating cue-induced reinstatement of cocaine-seeking is unclear. Similarly, the habenula complex, part of the epithalamus, has been implicated in nicotine self-administration and cue-induced reinstatement of heroin seeking, but the role of this region in cocaine reinstatement behaviour has received little attention. Rats (n=20) were trained to self-administer cocaine in the presence of discriminative stimuli associated with drug availability (S⁺) or drug non-availability (S⁻). Once a stable level of responding was reached, lever pressing was extinguished. Animals were then tested for reinstatement and sacrificed immediately following the presentation of either the S⁻ or S⁺ discriminative stimuli, and Fos-protein expression was assessed in thalamic and epithalamic regions. Interestingly, significant variation was observed in reinstatement behaviour, allowing a comparison between high-reinstating (HR), low-reinstating (LR) and control animals. Compared with LR animals, HR animals exhibited increased Fos-protein expression in the PVT, intermediodorsal thalamus and the medial and lateral divisions of the habenula. Our data provide evidence that activation of thalamic and epithalamic nuclei is associated with propensity to reinstate to cocaine-seeking elicited by drug-related cues. We also build upon existing data highlighting the importance of the PVT in reinstatement behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Cues
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Epithalamus / drug effects*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Recurrence
  • Thalamus / drug effects*


  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Cocaine