Repeated ventral tegmental area amphetamine administration alters dopamine D1 receptor signaling in the nucleus accumbens



Neuroadaptations of the mesoaccumbens dopamine (DA) system likely underlie the emergence of locomotor sensitization following the repeated intermittent systemic administration of amphetamine (AMPH). In the nucleus accumbens (NAc), such neuroadaptations include enhanced DA overflow in response to a subsequent AMPH challenge as well as increased sensitivity to the inhibitory effects of D1 DA receptor (D1R) activation and an altered profile of D1R-dependent induction of immediate early genes (IEGs). Previous results indicate that AMPH acts in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to initiate those changes leading to sensitization of the locomotor activity and NAc DA overflow produced by systemic administration of this drug. These observations are intriguing, given that acute infusion of AMPH into the VTA does not stimulate locomotor activity or, as we report presently, increase extracellular NAc DA concentrations. Two experiments, therefore, assessed the ability of repeated VTA AMPH to produce adaptations in D1R signaling in the NAc. Rats were administered three bilateral VTA infusions of saline or AMPH (2.5 μg/0.5 μl/side, one every third day). In the first experiment, in vivo extracellular electrophysiological recordings revealed that previous exposure to VTA AMPH enhanced the sensitivity of NAc neurons to the inhibitory effects of iontophoretic application of the D1R agonist SKF 38393. This effect was observed early (2–3 days) and at 1 month of withdrawal, but not after 2 months. Similarly, in the second experiment it was found that the D1R-dependent induction by AMPH of Fos, FosB, and JunB, but not NGFI-A, in the NAc was enhanced in rats exposed 1 week earlier to repeated VTA AMPH. These findings indicate that repeated VTA AMPH administration initiates relatively long-lasting adaptations in D1R signaling in the NAc that may, together with presynaptic adaptations affecting DA overflow, contribute to the expression of locomotor sensitization by this drug. Synapse 45:159–170, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.