Whole-cell plasticity in cocaine withdrawal: reduced sodium currents in nucleus accumbens neurons

J Neurosci. 1998 Jan 1;18(1):488-98. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.18-01-00488.1998.


The nucleus accumbens is a forebrain region that mediates cocaine self-administration and withdrawal effects in animal models of cocaine dependence. Considerable evidence suggests an important role of dopamine D1 receptors in these effects. Using a combination of current-clamp recordings in brain slices and whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from freshly dissociated neurons, we found that nucleus accumbens neurons are less excitable in cocaine withdrawn rats because of a novel form of plasticity: reduced whole-cell sodium currents. Three days after discontinuation of repeated cocaine injections, nucleus accumbens neurons recorded in brain slices were less responsive to depolarizing current injections, had higher action potential thresholds, and had lower spike amplitudes. Freshly dissociated nucleus accumbens neurons from cocaine-pretreated rats exhibited diminished sodium current density and a depolarizing shift in the voltage-dependence of sodium channel activation. These effects appear to be related to enhanced basal phosphorylation of sodium channels because of increased transmission through the dopamine D1 receptor/cAMP-dependent protein kinase pathway. The effects of repeated cocaine administration were not mimicked by repeated injections of the local anesthetic lidocaine and were not observed in neurons within the motor cortex, indicating that they did not result from local anesthetic actions of cocaine. Because nucleus accumbens neurons are normally recruited to coordinate response patterns of movement and affect, the decreased excitability during cocaine withdrawal may be related to symptoms such as anergia, anhedonia, and depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 2,3,4,5-Tetrahydro-7,8-dihydroxy-1-phenyl-1H-3-benzazepine / pharmacology
  • 8-Bromo Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Benzazepines / pharmacology
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Dopamine Agonists / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / chemistry
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / cytology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / physiology
  • Sodium Channels / physiology*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / physiopathology*


  • Benzazepines
  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1
  • Sodium Channels
  • 8-Bromo Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate
  • 2,3,4,5-Tetrahydro-7,8-dihydroxy-1-phenyl-1H-3-benzazepine
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases
  • Cocaine