Unique gene alterations are induced in FACS-purified Fos-positive neurons activated during cue-induced relapse to heroin seeking


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Bruce T. Hope, Behavioral Neuroscience Branch, IRP/NIDA/NIH, 251 Bayview Blvd, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA. E-mail: bhope@intra.nida.nih.gov


Cue-induced heroin seeking after prolonged withdrawal is associated with neuronal activation and altered gene expression in prefrontal cortex (PFC). However, these previous studies assessed gene expression in all neurons regardless of their activity state during heroin seeking. Using Fos as a marker of neural activity, we describe distinct molecular alterations induced in activated versus non-activated neurons during cue-induced heroin seeking after prolonged withdrawal. We trained rats to self-administer heroin for 10 days (6 h/day) and assessed cue-induced heroin seeking in extinction tests after 14 or 30 days. We used fluorescent-activated cell sorting (FACS) to purify Fos-positive and Fos-negative neurons from PFC 90 min after extinction testing. Flow cytometry showed that Fos-immunoreactivity was increased in less than 10% of sparsely distributed PFC neurons. mRNA levels of the immediate early genes fosB, arc, egr1, and egr2, as well as npy and map2k6, were increased in Fos-positive, but not Fos-negative, neurons. In support of these findings, double-label immunohistochemistry indicated substantial coexpression of neuropeptide Y (NPY)- and Arc-immunoreactivity in Fos-positive neurons. Our data indicate that cue-induced relapse to heroin seeking after prolonged withdrawal induces unique molecular alterations within activated PFC neurons that are distinct from those observed in the surrounding majority of non-activated neurons.