Within-animal comparisons of novelty and cocaine neuronal ensemble overlap in the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex

Behav Brain Res. 2020 Feb 3:379:112275. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2019.112275. Epub 2019 Oct 12.


Novelty seeking is a personality trait associated with an increased vulnerability for substance abuse. In rodents, elevated novelty seeking has been shown to be a predictor for elevated drug self-administration and compulsive use. While previous studies have shown that both novelty and drugs of abuse have actions within similar mesocorticolimbic regions, little is known as to whether the same neural ensembles are engaged by these two stimuli. Using the TetTag mouse model and Fos immunohistochemistry, we measured neurons engaged by novelty and acute cocaine exposure, respectively in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAc). While there was no significant impact of novelty exposure on the size of the EGFP+ ensemble, we found that cocaine engaged significantly more Fos+ neurons in the NAc, while stress increased the size of the Fos+ ensemble in the PFC. Analysis of ensemble reactivation was specific to the emotional valence of the second stimuli. We found that a greater proportion of the EGFP+ ensemble was reactivated in the groups that paired novelty with a positive (cocaine) or neutral (saline) experience in the NAc, while the novelty/stress paired groups exhibited significantly less ensemble overlap in the PFC. However, only in the NAc shell was this increase in ensemble overlap specific to those exposed to both novelty and cocaine. This suggests that the NAc shell, but not the NAc core or PFC, may play an important role in general reward processing by engaging a similar network of neurons.

Keywords: Cocaine; Novelty seeking; Psychostimulant; Sex differences; Stress; TetTag mouse model.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiopathology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Reward*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Cocaine