α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid (AMPA) receptors are differentially regulated in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) of the brain after cocaine exposure. However, these results are supported only by biochemical and electrophysiological methods, but have not been validated with immunohistochemistry. To overcome the restriction of antigen loss on the postsynaptic target molecules that occurs during perfusion-fixation, we adopted an immersion-fixation method that enabled us to immunohistochemically quantify the expression levels of the AMPA receptor GluA1 subunit in the NAcc. Interestingly, compared to saline exposure, cocaine significantly increased the immunofluorescence intensity of GluA1 in two sub-regions, the core and the shell, of the NAcc on withdrawal day 21 following cocaine exposure, which led to locomotor sensitization. Increases in GluA1 intensity were observed in both the extra-post synaptic density (PSD) and PSD areas in the two sub-regions of the NAcc. These results clearly indicate that AMPA receptor plasticity, as exemplified by GluA1, in the NAcc can be visually detected by immunohistochemistry and confocal imaging. These results expand our understanding of the molecular changes occurring in neuronal synapses by adding a new form of analysis to conventional biochemical and electrophysiological methods.
Keywords: Cocaine; Glutamate receptor; Nucleus accumbens; Tissue fixation.