Enhanced Anxiety Observed in Cocaine Withdrawn Rats Is Associated With Altered Reactivity of the Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e43535. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043535. Epub 2012 Aug 16.


Discontinuation of drug intake in cocaine abusers commonly produces a variety of adverse withdrawal symptoms among which anxiety and depression-related behavior are prevailing during the initial period of abstinence. The aim of this study was to provide further insight into the neurobiological dysregulations that might contribute to these pathological states. Rats were treated with cocaine or saline for 14 days (20 mg/kg; i.p) and anxiety-related behavior was assessed in different paradigms (elevated plus-maze (EPM), confinement to an open arm of the EPM and shock-probe burying tests) for up to 4 weeks after withdrawal. Depression-like behavior was assessed by the forced swim test and sucrose preference test. Altogether our results demonstrated that cocaine withdrawal induced persistent heightened levels of anxiety that last for at least 28 days but did not affect depression-like behavior. We then used Fos immunohistochemistry to map neuronal activation patterns in withdrawn rats confined to one open arm of an EPM, and a double labeling procedure using Fos immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization of glutamic acid decarboxylase or vesicular glutamate transporter mRNAs to identify the phenotype of the activated neurons. Our data showed that the exacerbated anxiety observed in cocaine withdrawn rats exposed to an elevated open arm was accompanied by an altered reactivity of the dorsal part of the medial prefrontal cortex (anterior cingulate and dorsal prelimbic cortices), the paraventricular thalamic nucleus and the lateral and anterior areas of the hypothalamus. In the medial prefrontal cortex, we evidenced a negative correlation between Fos expression in its dorsal part and open arm-induced freezing in NaCl-treated rats but not in cocaine withdrawn rats. We also found that more than 65% of activated neurons were glutamatergic projection neurons. The present study provides new insights into the neuroanatomical regions and neuronal cell types that may underlie pathological anxiety during cocaine withdrawal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / metabolism*
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Cocaine / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / physiopathology*


  • Cocaine

Grant support

This work was supported by several grants from the Université Claude Bernard Lyon I, Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique et la Mission Interministérielle de Lutte contre la Drogue et la Toxicomanie. CE was supported by la Société Française de Pharmacologie et de Thérapeutique. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.