Neuroadaptive changes underlying repeated exposure to cocaine-induced behavioural sensitization have been related to modification in the pattern of synaptic connectivity and excitatory transmission. Remarkably, even a single exposure to abused drugs is sufficient to elicit lasting behavioural sensitization. The present study investigated whether in Sprague–Dawley rats a single, behavioural sensitizing dose of cocaine is sufficient to induce changes in the mRNA levels of growth-associated protein 43 (GAP-43), an important protein in mediating experience-dependent plasticity and synaptic reorganization, and of glutamate receptor 1 (GluR1), a subunit of AMPA glutamate receptors, a protein that is up-regulated with repeated cocaine. Single exposure to 20, but not 10 mg/kg cocaine induced locomotor sensitization to a second injection of 10 mg/kg cocaine, observed at 24 h, 48 h and 7 days. Single dose of 20 but not 10 mg/kg cocaine 48 h before scheduled death significantly enhanced GluR1 and GAP-43 mRNA expression in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), both shell and core subregions, and ventral tegmental area (VTA). No changes were found in the levels of mRNA for GluR1 and GAP-43 in the frontal cortex, caudate putamen, dentate gyrus of hippocampus and basolateral nucleus of the amygdala after the single dose of 20 mg/kg cocaine. These results further strengthen the involvement of NAc and VTA in the behavioural sensitization and suggest a role of GAP-43 in the synaptic reorganization associated to drug abuse.