Cue-induced reinstatement of alcohol-seeking behavior is associated with increased CaMKII T286 phosphorylation in the reward pathway of mice

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2017 Dec;163:20-29. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2017.10.011. Epub 2017 Oct 31.


Cue-induced reinstatement of alcohol-seeking is a hallmark behavioral pathology of addiction. Evidence suggests that reinstatement (e.g., relapse), may be regulated by cell signaling systems that underlie neuroplasticity. A variety of plasticity events require activation of calcium calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) in components of the reward pathway, such as the nucleus accumbens and amygdala. We sought to determine if cue-induced reinstatement of alcohol-seeking behavior is associated with changes in the activation state (e.g., phosphorylation) of CaMKII-T286. Male C57BL/6J mice (n=14) were trained to lever press on a fixed-ratio-4 schedule of sweetened alcohol (2% sucrose+9% EtOH) reinforcement. After 14-d of extinction (no cues or reinforcers), mice underwent a response-contingent reinstatement (n=7) vs. an additional day of extinction (n=7). Brains were removed immediately after the test and processed for evaluation of pCaMKII-T286 immunoreactivity (IR). Number of pCaMKII-T286 positive cells/mm2 was quantified from coronal brain sections using Bioquant Image Analysis software. Mice emitted significantly more responses on the alcohol vs. the inactive lever throughout the baseline phase with average alcohol intake of 1.1±0.03g/kg/1-h. During extinction, responses on the alcohol lever decreased to inactive lever levels by day 7. Significant cue-induced reinstatement of alcohol-seeking was observed during a single test with no effects on the inactive lever. Reinstatement was associated with increased pCaMKII-T286 IR specifically in amygdala (LA and BLA), nucleus accumbens (AcbSh), lateral septum, mediodorsal thalamus, and piriform cortex as compared to extinction control. Brain regions showing no change included the dorsal striatum, medial septum, cingulate cortex, habenula, paraventricular thalamus, and ventral hypothalamus. These results show response contingent cue-induced reinstatement of alcohol-seeking behavior is associated with selective increases in pCaMKII-T286 in specific reward- and memory-related brain regions of male C57BL/6J mice. Primary molecular mechanisms of associative learning and memory may regulate relapse in alcohol addiction.

Keywords: Addiction; Alcohol; Amygdala; CaMKII; CaMKII-T286; Cue-induced; Ethanol olfactory; Habenula; Hypothalamus; Nucleus accumbens; Piriform cortex; Reinstatement; Relapse; Striatum; Thalamus.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Cues*
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Phosphorylation
  • Reward*


  • Ethanol
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2