Dorsolateral caudate nucleus differentiates cocaine from natural reward-associated contextual cues

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Mar 5;110(10):4093-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1207531110. Epub 2013 Feb 19.


Chronic drug administration induces neuroplastic changes within brain circuits regulating cognitive control and/or emotions. Following repeated pairings between drug intake and environmental cues, increased sensitivity to or salience of these contextual cues provoke conscious or unconscious craving and enhance susceptibility to relapse. To explore brain circuits participating in such experience-induced plasticity, we combined functional MRI with a preclinical drug vs. food self-administration (SA) withdrawal model. Specifically, two groups of rats were trained to associate odor cues with the availability of i.v. cocaine or oral sucrose, respectively. After 20 d of cocaine or sucrose SA followed by prolonged (30 d) forced abstinence, animals were presented with odor cues previously associated with or without (S+/S-) reinforcer (cocaine/sucrose) availability while undergoing functional MRI scans. ANOVA results demonstrate that a learning effect distinguishing S+ from S- was seen in the insula and nucleus accumbens, with the insula response reflecting the individual history of cocaine SA intake. A main effect of group, distinguishing cocaine from sucrose, was seen in the medial prefrontal cortex (infralimbic, prelimbic, and cingulate cortex) and dorsolateral striatum. Critically, only the dorsomedial striatum demonstrated a double dissociation between the two SA groups and learning (S+ vs. S-). These findings demonstrate altered cortico-limbic-striatal reward-related processing to learned, environment reward-associated contextual odor cues, which may serve as potential biomarkers for therapeutic interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caudate Nucleus / physiology*
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Cues
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Odorants
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reward*
  • Self Administration
  • Smell / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology


  • Cocaine