Synaptic Microtubule-Associated Protein EB3 and SRC Phosphorylation Mediate Structural and Behavioral Adaptations During Withdrawal From Cocaine Self-Administration

J Neurosci. 2019 Jul 17;39(29):5634-5646. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0024-19.2019. Epub 2019 May 15.


Addictive behaviors, including relapse, are thought to depend in part on long-lasting drug-induced adaptations in dendritic spine signaling and morphology in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). While the influence of activity-dependent actin remodeling in these phenomena has been studied extensively, the role of microtubules and associated proteins remains poorly understood. We report that pharmacological inhibition of microtubule polymerization in the NAc inhibited locomotor sensitization to cocaine and contextual reward learning. We then investigated the roles of microtubule end-binding protein 3 (EB3) and SRC kinase in the neuronal and behavioral responses to volitionally administered cocaine. In synaptoneurosomal fractions from the NAc of self-administering male rats, the phosphorylation of SRC at an activating site was induced after 1 d of withdrawal, while EB3 levels were increased only after 30 d of withdrawal. Blocking SRC phosphorylation during early withdrawal by virally overexpressing SRCIN1, a negative regulator of SRC activity known to interact with EB3, abolished the incubation of cocaine craving in both male and female rats. Conversely, mimicking the EB3 increase observed after prolonged withdrawal increased the motivation to consume cocaine in male rats. In mice, the overexpression of either EB3 or SRCIN1 increased dendritic spine density and altered the spine morphology of NAc medium spiny neurons. Finally, a cocaine challenge after prolonged withdrawal recapitulated most of the synaptic protein expression profiles observed at early withdrawal. These findings suggest that microtubule-associated signaling proteins such as EB3 cooperate with actin remodeling pathways, notably SRC kinase activity, to establish and maintain long-lasting cellular and behavioral alterations following cocaine self-administration.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Drug-induced morphological restructuring of dendritic spines of nucleus accumbens neurons is thought to be one of the cellular substrates of long-lasting drug-associated memories. The molecular basis of these persistent changes has remained incompletely understood. Here we implicate for the first time microtubule function in this process, together with key players such as microtubule-bound protein EB3 and synaptic SRC phosphorylation. We propose that microtubule and actin remodeling cooperate during withdrawal to maintain the plastic structural changes initially established by cocaine self-administration. This work opens new translational avenues for further characterization of microtubule-associated regulatory molecules as putative drug targets to tackle relapse to drug taking.

Keywords: MAPRE3; SRCIN1; addiction; dendritic spines; nucleus accumbens; podophyllotoxin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / metabolism
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / pathology
  • Female
  • Locomotion / drug effects
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / metabolism*
  • Microtubules / drug effects
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Microtubules / pathology
  • Oncogene Protein pp60(v-src) / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Phosphorylation / physiology
  • Rats
  • Self Administration
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / metabolism*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / pathology
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synapses / pathology


  • EB3 protein, mouse
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Oncogene Protein pp60(v-src)
  • Cocaine