Administration of drugs of abuse induces strong molecular adaptations and plasticity within the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system, a pathway essential for reward-seeking behavior. Little is known about the specific targets involved in this neuroadaptation process, but there are indications that cocaine and other drugs of abuse share the ability to alter the morphology of neuronal dendrites and spines, the primary site of excitatory synapses in the brain. Axon guidance molecules, the very molecular cues that regulate the formation of axon-target connections during development, may mediate these alterations. To test this hypothesis, we investigated mRNA expression changes of 39 axon guidance molecules, including 17 Semaphorins, 12 Ephs, 8 Ephrins, and 2 neuropilins in the mesolimbic dopamine system of cocaine-treated animals under different paradigms by mean of DNA-Microarray and quantitative real-time PCR. In all cases, strong changes in gene expression are observed, yielding to up or downregulation of these axon guidance molecules. Our data suggest that cocaine treatment induces activation of a complex program of synaptic rearrangements, which may partly recapitulate the plastic changes occurring during development, and may underlie the important neuroplastic adaptations that occur in the reward- and memory-related brain centers following drug action. We conclude that in some brain regions, exposure to psychomotor-stimulant drugs produce expression changes in axon guidance molecules, which may contribute to cognitive deficits associated with drug abuse.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology