Basolateral amygdala CB1 receptors gate HPA axis activation and context-cocaine memory strength during reconsolidation

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2021 Aug;46(9):1554-1564. doi: 10.1038/s41386-020-00919-x. Epub 2021 Jan 15.


Re-exposure to a cocaine-associated context triggers craving and relapse through the retrieval of salient context-drug memories. Upon retrieval, context-drug memories become labile and temporarily sensitive to modification before they are reconsolidated into long-term memory stores. The effects of systemic cannabinoid type 1 receptor (CB1R) antagonism indicate that CB1R signaling is necessary for cocaine-memory reconsolidation and associated glutamatergic plasticity in the basolateral amygdala (BLA); however, the contribution of BLA CB1R signaling to cocaine-memory reconsolidation is unknown. Here, we assessed whether intra-BLA CB1R manipulations immediately after cocaine-memory retrieval alter cocaine-memory strength indexed by subsequent drug context-induced cocaine-seeking behavior in an instrumental rodent model of drug relapse. Administration of the CB1R antagonist, AM251 (0.3 µg/hemisphere) into the BLA increased subsequent drug context-induced cocaine-seeking behavior in a memory retrieval-dependent and anatomically selective manner. Conversely, the CB1R agonist, WIN55,212-2 (0.5 or 5 µg/hemisphere) failed to alter this behavior. In follow-up experiments, cocaine-memory retrieval elicited robust hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation, as indicated by a rise in serum corticosterone concentrations. Intra-BLA AM251 administration during memory reconsolidation selectively increased this cocaine-memory retrieval-induced corticosterone response. Intra-BLA corticosterone administration (3 or 10 ng/hemisphere) during memory reconsolidation did not augment subsequent cocaine-seeking behavior, suggesting that CB1R-dependent effects of corticosterone on memory strength, if any, are mediated outside of the BLA. Together, these findings suggest that CB1R signaling in the BLA gates cocaine-memory strength, possibly by diminishing the impact of cue-induced arousal on the integrity of the reconsolidating memory trace or on the efficacy of the memory reconsolidation process.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala
  • Animals
  • Basolateral Nuclear Complex*
  • Cocaine* / pharmacology
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1


  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Cocaine