Neural basis of benzodiazepine reward: Requirement for α2 containing GABA a receptors in the nucleus accumbens

Elif Engin, Konstantin I. Bakhurin, Kiersten S. Smith, Rochelle M. Hines, Lauren M. Reynolds, Wannan Tang, Rolf Sprengel, Stephen J. Moss, Uwe Rudolph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite long-standing concerns regarding the abuse liability of benzodiazepines, the mechanisms underlying properties of benzodiazepines that may be relevant to abuse are still poorly understood. Earlier studies showed that compounds selective for α1-containing GABA A receptors (α1GABA A Rs) are abused by humans and self-administered by animals, and that these receptors may underlie a preference for benzodiazepines as well as neuroplastic changes observed in the ventral tegmental area following benzodiazepine administration. There is some evidence, however, that even L-838, 417, a compound with antagonistic properties at α1GABA A Rs and agonistic properties at the other three benzodiazepine-sensitive GABA A receptor subtypes, is self-administered, and that the α2GABA A Rs may have a role in benzodiazepine-induced reward enhancement. Using a two-bottle choice drinking paradigm to evaluate midazolam preference and an intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) paradigm to evaluate the impact of midazolam on reward enhancement, we demonstrated that mice carrying a histidine-to-arginine point mutation in the α2 subunit which renders it insensitive to benzodiazepines (α2(H101R) mice) did not prefer midazolam and did not show midazolam-induced reward enhancement in ICSS, in contrast to wild-type controls, suggesting that α2GABA A Rs are necessary for the reward enhancing effects and preference for oral benzodiazepines. Through a viral-mediated knockdown of α2GABA A Rs in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), we demonstrated that α2 in the NAc is necessary for the preference for midazolam. Findings imply that α2GABA A Rs in the NAc are involved in at least some reward-related properties of benzodiazepines, which might partially underlie repeated drug-taking behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1805-1815
Number of pages11
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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