Serum- and glucocorticoid-inducible kinase 1 activity in ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons regulates cocaine conditioned place preference but not cocaine self-administration

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2021 Aug;46(9):1574-1583. doi: 10.1038/s41386-021-01032-3. Epub 2021 May 18.


Drugs of abuse regulate the activity of the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system, and drug-induced changes in ventral tegmental area (VTA) cellular activity and gene regulation are linked to behavioral outputs associated with addiction. Previous work from our lab determined that VTA serum- and glucocorticoid-inducible kinase 1 (SGK1) transcription and catalytic activity were increased by repeated cocaine administration; however, it was unknown if these biochemical changes contributed to cocaine-elicited behaviors. Using transgenic and viral-mediated manipulations, we investigated the role of VTA SGK1 catalytic activity in regulating cocaine conditioned place preference and self-administration. We showed intra-VTA infusion of a catalytically inactive SGK1 mutant (K127Q) significantly decreased cocaine conditioned place preference (CPP). Further, we found that K127Q expression in VTA DA neurons significantly decreased cocaine CPP, while this same manipulation in VTA GABA neurons had no effect. However, blunted VTA DA SGK1 catalytic activity did not alter cocaine self-administration. Altogether, these studies identify the specific VTA cells critical for SGK1-mediated effects on cocaine CPP but not self-administration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cocaine* / pharmacology
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Dopaminergic Neurons
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Ventral Tegmental Area*


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Cocaine