A molecular profile of cocaine abuse includes the differential expression of genes that regulate transcription, chromatin, and dopamine cell phenotype

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2014 Aug;39(9):2191-9. doi: 10.1038/npp.2014.70. Epub 2014 Mar 19.


Chronic drug abuse, craving, and relapse are thought to be linked to long-lasting changes in neural gene expression arising through transcriptional and chromatin-related mechanisms. The key contributions of midbrain dopamine (DA)-synthesizing neurons throughout the addiction process provide a compelling rationale for determining the drug-induced molecular changes that occur in these cells. Yet our understanding of these processes remains rudimentary. The postmortem human brain constitutes a unique resource that can be exploited to gain insights into the pathophysiology of complex disorders such as drug addiction. In this study, we analyzed the profiles of midbrain gene expression in chronic cocaine abusers and well-matched drug-free control subjects using microarray and quantitative PCR. A small number of genes exhibited robust differential expression; many of these are involved in the regulation of transcription, chromatin, or DA cell phenotype. Transcript abundances for approximately half of these differentially expressed genes were diagnostic for assigning subjects to the cocaine-abusing vs control cohort. Identification of a molecular signature associated with pathophysiological changes occurring in cocaine abusers' midbrains should contribute to the development of biomarkers and novel therapeutic targets for drug addiction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / genetics*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism*
  • Microarray Analysis
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Chromatin
  • Dopamine