New technologies for examining the role of neuronal ensembles in drug addiction and fear

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2013 Nov;14(11):743-54. doi: 10.1038/nrn3597. Epub 2013 Oct 3.


Correlational data suggest that learned associations are encoded within neuronal ensembles. However, it has been difficult to prove that neuronal ensembles mediate learned behaviours because traditional pharmacological and lesion methods, and even newer cell type-specific methods, affect both activated and non-activated neurons. In addition, previous studies on synaptic and molecular alterations induced by learning did not distinguish between behaviourally activated and non-activated neurons. Here, we describe three new approaches--Daun02 inactivation, FACS sorting of activated neurons and Fos-GFP transgenic rats--that have been used to selectively target and study activated neuronal ensembles in models of conditioned drug effects and relapse. We also describe two new tools--Fos-tTA transgenic mice and inactivation of CREB-overexpressing neurons--that have been used to study the role of neuronal ensembles in conditioned fear.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Genes, Immediate-Early / genetics
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / physiology
  • Mice
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Rats
  • Reward
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / pathology*


  • Dopamine