Effects of repeated cocaine exposure on habit learning and reversal by N-acetylcysteine

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2014 Jul;39(8):1893-901. doi: 10.1038/npp.2014.37. Epub 2014 Feb 17.


Exposure to drugs of abuse can result in a loss of control over both drug- and nondrug-related actions by accelerating the transition from goal-directed to habitual control, an effect argued to reflect changes in glutamate homeostasis. Here we examined whether exposure to cocaine accelerates habit learning and used in vitro electrophysiology to investigate its effects on measures of synaptic plasticity in the dorsomedial (DMS) and dorsolateral (DLS) striatum, areas critical for actions and habits, respectively. We then administered N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in an attempt to normalize glutamate homeostasis and hence reverse the cellular and behavioral effects of cocaine exposure. Rats received daily injections of cocaine (30 mg/kg) for 6 days and were then trained to lever press for a food reward. We used outcome devaluation and whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology to assess the behavioral and cellular effects of cocaine exposure. We then examined the ability of NAC to reverse the effects of cocaine exposure on these measures. Cocaine treatment produced a deficit in goal-directed action, as assessed by outcome devaluation, and increased the frequency of spontaneous and miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) in the DMS but not in the DLS. Importantly, NAC treatment both normalized EPSC frequency and promoted goal-directed control in cocaine-treated rats. The promotion of goal-directed control has the potential to improve treatment outcomes in human cocaine addicts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects*
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Habits*
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Neostriatum / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans


  • Glutamic Acid
  • Cocaine
  • Acetylcysteine