Blockade of the 5-HT transporter contributes to the behavioural, neuronal and molecular effects of cocaine

Br J Pharmacol. 2017 Aug;174(16):2716-2738. doi: 10.1111/bph.13899. Epub 2017 Jul 11.


Background and purpose: The psychostimulant cocaine induces complex molecular, cellular and behavioural responses as a consequence of inhibiting presynaptic dopamine, noradrenaline and 5-HT transporters. To elucidate 5-HT transporter (SERT)-specific contributions to cocaine action, we evaluated cocaine effects in the SERT Met172 knock-in mouse, which expresses a SERT coding substitution that eliminates high-affinity cocaine recognition.

Experimental approach: We measured the effects of SERT Met172 on cocaine antagonism of 5-HT re-uptake using ex vivo synaptosome preparations and in vivo microdialysis. We assessed SERT dependence of cocaine actions behaviourally through acute and chronic locomotor activation, sensitization, conditioned place preference (CPP) and oral cocaine consumption. We used c-Fos, quantitative RT-PCR and RNA sequencing methods for insights into cellular and molecular networks supporting SERT-dependent cocaine actions.

Key results: SERT Met172 mice demonstrated functional insensitivity for cocaine at SERT. Although they displayed wild-type levels of acute cocaine-induced hyperactivity or chronic sensitization, the pattern of acute motor activation was different, with a bias toward thigmotaxis. CPP was increased, and a time-dependent elevation in oral cocaine consumption was observed. SERT Met172 mice displayed relatively higher levels of neuronal activation in the hippocampus, piriform cortex and prelimbic cortex (PrL), accompanied by region-dependent changes in immediate early gene expression. Distinct SERT-dependent gene expression networks triggered by acute and chronic cocaine administration were identified, including PrL Akt and nucleus accumbens ERK1/2 signalling.

Conclusion and implications: Our studies reveal distinct SERT contributions to cocaine action, reinforcing the possibility of targeting specific aspects of cocaine addiction by modulation of 5-HT signalling.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / administration & dosage
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / metabolism*
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Motor Activity
  • Neurons
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Serotonin
  • Cocaine