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Sex-Specific Role for Egr3 in Nucleus Accumbens D2-Medium Spiny Neurons Following Long-Term Abstinence From Cocaine Self-administration

Published:November 01, 2019DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.10.019

      Abstract

      Background

      We previously showed that the transcription factor Egr3 (early growth response 3) is oppositely regulated in nucleus accumbens (NAc) cell subtypes 24 hours following cocaine exposure and bidirectionally mediates cocaine-related behaviors in male rodents. Overexpressing Egr3 in D2 receptor–containing medium spiny neurons (D2-MSNs) before drug exposure reduces the rewarding and psychomotor sensitization effects of cocaine. However, it is unknown if Egr3 plays a role in long-term neuroadaptations in the NAc and relapse to cocaine seeking.

      Methods

      We measured EGR3 protein levels in the NAc following 20 days of forced abstinence from intravenous cocaine self-administration in 10-week-old Sprague Dawley rats and C57BL/6 mice. In 8- to 10-week-old A2A-Cre mice, we used virally mediated Egr3 overexpression in NAc D2-MSNs to test the role of Egr3 on operant responding during seeking, extinction, and drug-induced reinstatement of cocaine self-administration. To evaluate if Egr3 contributed to sex differences to cocaine relapse, we conducted these procedures in both male and female rodents.

      Results

      We found that EGR3 expression was reduced only in female rodents after 20 days of forced abstinence. Additionally, we showed that our self-administration paradigm in mice recapitulated the sex differences in cocaine intake and relapse demonstrated in humans and rats. Finally, whereas Egr3 overexpression in D2-MSNs during forced abstinence facilitated extinction and blunted drug-induced reinstatement in female mice, it had the opposite effect in male mice.

      Conclusions

      We showed that the immediate early gene Egr3 has long-term effects on drug-related behaviors. Our work suggests that changes in Egr3 expression in D2-MSNs contributes to sex differences in cocaine relapse.

      Keywords

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