J. Neurochem. (2012) 121, 302–313.
Mounting evidence suggests a potential link between cocaine abuse, disruptions in hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis signaling, and neuroplasticity, but molecular mechanisms remain unknown. Neurogranin (Ng) is a gene containing a thyroid hormone-responsive element within its first intron that is involved in synaptic plasticity. Transcriptional activation requires heterodimerization of thyroid hormone receptor (TR) and retinoid X receptor (RXR) bound by their respective ligands, tri-iodothryonine and 9-cis-retinoic acid (9-cis-RA), and subsequent binding of this complex to the thyroid hormone-responsive element of the Ng gene. In this study, the effects of chronic cocaine abuse on Ng expression in euthyroid and hypothyroid mice were assessed. In cocaine-treated mice, decreased Ng expression was observed in the absence of changes in levels of thyroid hormones or other hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid signaling factors. Therefore, we hypothesized that cocaine decreases Ng expression via alterations in 9-cis-RA availability and TR/RXR signaling. In support of this hypothesis, RXR-γ was significantly decreased in brains of cocaine-treated mice while CYP26A1, the main enzyme responsible for neuronal RA degradation, was significantly increased. Results from this study provide the first evidence for a direct effect of cocaine abuse on TR/RXR signaling, RA metabolism, and transcriptional regulation of Ng, a gene essential for adult neuroplasticity.