Methamphetamine-induced structural plasticity in the dorsal striatum


Dr T.E. Robinson, 2Department of Psychology (Biopsychology), as above.


Repeated exposure to psychostimulant drugs produces long-lasting changes in dendritic structure, presumably reflecting a reorganization in patterns of synaptic connectivity, in brain regions that mediate the psychomotor activating and incentive motivational effects of these drugs, including the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex. However, repeated exposure to psychostimulant drugs also facilitates a transition in the control of some behaviors from action–outcome associations to behavior controlled by stimulus–response (S–R) habits. This latter effect is thought to be due to increasing engagement and control over behavior by the dorsolateral (but not dorsomedial) striatum. We hypothesized therefore that repeated exposure to methamphetamine would differentially alter the density of dendritic spines on medium spiny neurons (MSNs) in the dorsolateral vs. dorsomedial striatum. Rats were treated with repeated injections of methamphetamine, and 3 months later dendrites were visualized using Sindbis virus-mediated green fluorescent protein (GFP) expression in vivo. We report that prior exposure to methamphetamine produced a significant increase in mushroom and thin spines on MSNs in the dorsolateral striatum, but a significant decrease in mushroom spines in the dorsomedial striatum. This may be due to changes in the glutamatergic innervation of these two subregions of the dorsal striatum. Thus, we speculate that exposure to psychostimulant drugs may facilitate the development of S–R habits because this reorganizes patterns of synaptic connectivity in the dorsal striatum in a way that increases control over behavior by the dorsolateral striatum.