Chemogenetic inhibition reveals midline thalamic nuclei and thalamo-accumbens projections mediate cocaine-seeking in rats

Eur J Neurosci. 2017 Aug;46(3):1850-1862. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13631. Epub 2017 Jul 26.


Drug addiction is a chronic disease that is shaped by alterations in neuronal function within the cortical-basal ganglia-thalamic circuit. However, our understanding of how this circuit regulates drug-seeking remains incomplete, and relapse rates remain high. The midline thalamic nuclei are an integral component of the cortical-basal ganglia-thalamic circuit and are poised to mediate addiction behaviors, including relapse. It is surprising that little research has examined the contribution of midline thalamic nuclei and their efferent projections in relapse. To address this, we expressed inhibitory, Gi/o -coupled DREADDs (Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs) in a subset of the midline thalamic nuclei or in midline thalamic nuclei neurons projecting to either the nucleus accumbens or the amygdala. We examined the effect of transiently decreasing activity of these neuronal populations on cue-induced and cocaine-primed reinstatement of cocaine-seeking. Reducing activity of midline thalamic nuclei neurons attenuated both cue-induced and cocaine-primed reinstatement, but had no effect on cue-induced reinstatement of sucrose-seeking or locomotor activity. Interestingly, attenuating activity of efferent projections from the anterior portion of midline thalamic nuclei to the nucleus accumbens blocked cocaine-primed reinstatement but enhanced cue-induced reinstatement. Decreasing activity of efferent projections from either the posterior midline thalamic nuclei to the nucleus accumbens or the midline thalamic nuclei to amygdala had no effect. These results reveal a novel contribution of subsets of midline thalamic nuclei neurons in drug-seeking behaviors and suggest that modulation of midline thalamic nuclei activity may be a promising therapeutic target for preventing relapse.

Keywords: DREADDs; addiction; cocaine; neural circuits; rat.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Clozapine / pharmacology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / metabolism*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cues
  • Designer Drugs / pharmacology
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior*
  • Efferent Pathways / drug effects
  • Male
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nucleus Accumbens / cytology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism
  • Repetition Priming
  • Thalamic Nuclei / cytology
  • Thalamic Nuclei / drug effects*
  • Thalamic Nuclei / metabolism


  • Designer Drugs
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Clozapine