The mechanisms underlying psychostimulant drug-induced sensitization include long-term cellular and molecular adaptations in dopaminergic circuits. Nur77, a member of the Nur family of transcription factors, is expressed in brain regions receiving dopamine inputs and plays a role in activity-induced synaptic modification. Here we evaluated changes in Nur77 mRNA levels in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), dorsal striatum (Str) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) of rats receiving a repeated, sensitizing regimen of amphetamine (AMPH). Results were compared to two groups of controls - animals receiving repeated injections of saline (Rp-SAL) or with no treatment (CON). Two weeks after the last injection, the effect of an acute challenge dose of AMPH on Nur77 expression was evaluated using in-situ hybridization. Repeated AMPH treatment (Rp-AMPH) increased the levels of Nur77 mRNA in the mPFC, NAc core and shell regions. However, the effects of an acute injection of AMPH in each of the three groups of animals was distinct. Whereas an acute AMPH led to a significant increase of Nur77 in all brain regions of the CON animals, it had no significant effect in Rp-SAL animals. Interestingly, in acute AMPH-injected Rp-AMPH animals, Nur77 mRNA levels in the mPFC, Str and NAc regions were significantly lower compared to CON and Rp-SAL animals treated with acute AMPH. There was a positive correlation between AMPH -induced locomotor activity and Nur77 mRNA expression in CON animals; however, this relationship was absent in Rp-SAL and Rp-AMPH animals. The data suggest that Nur77 is a part of neuroadaptive changes caused by either mild stress of repeated injections as well as AMPH-sensitization and may play a role in abnormal behaviors induced by the drug.
Keywords: Behavior; Immediate early gene; Psychostimulant; Sensitization.
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