• c-fos;
  • cortex;
  • dopamine;
  • dynorphin;
  • psychostimulant


Psychostimulants alter gene expression in projection neurons of the striatum, and such neuroplasticity is implicated in drug addiction and dependence. Evidence indicates that excitatory inputs from the cortex and thalamus are critical for these molecular changes. In the present study, we determined the topography of cocaine-induced changes in gene expression in the rat striatum and investigated whether these molecular alterations are associated with particular cortical inputs. Acute induction of c-fos (by 25 mg/kg of cocaine), and the c-fos response and dynorphin expression after repeated cocaine treatment (25 mg/kg, 4 days) were assessed as examples for short-term and longer-term molecular changes, respectively. In addition, we examined whether these molecular effects were influenced by the behaviour performed during cocaine action (running-wheel training vs. open field). Our results demonstrate that the overall topography of cocaine-induced gene regulation in the striatum is remarkably stable. Both acute and longer-term molecular changes were maximal in caudal dorsal striatal sectors that receive convergent inputs from the medial agranular and the sensorimotor cortex. In contrast, relatively minor or no effects were found in rostral and ventral striatal sectors. However, running-wheel training under the influence of cocaine enhanced the c-fos response to a subsequent cocaine challenge selectively in parts of the caudal sensorimotor striatum. These results indicate that cocaine produces molecular adaptations preferentially in cortico-basal ganglia circuits through the sensorimotor striatum, and that some of these neuronal changes are influenced by the behaviour performed during drug exposure.