Neuroadaptations in the dorsal hippocampus underlie cocaine seeking during prolonged abstinence

Craig T. Werner, Swarup Mitra, Benjamin D. Auerbach, Zi Jun Wang, Jennifer A. Martin, Andrew F. Stewart, Pedro H. Gobira, Madoka Iida, Chunna An, Moriah M. Cobb, Aaron Caccamise, Richard J. Salvi, Rachael L. Neve, Amy M. Gancarz, David M. Dietz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Relapse vulnerability in substance use disorder is attributed to persistent cue-induced drug seeking that intensifies (or "incubates") during drug abstinence. Incubated cocaine seeking has been observed in both humans with cocaine use disorder and in preclinical relapse models. This persistent relapse vulnerability is mediated by neuroadaptations in brain regions involved in reward and motivation. The dorsal hippocampus (DH) is involved in context-induced reinstatement of cocaine seeking but the role of the DH in cocaine seeking during prolonged abstinence has not been investigated. Here we found that transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) superfamily member activin A is increased in the DH on abstinence day (AD) 30 but not AD1 following extendedaccess cocaine self-administration compared to saline controls. Moreover, activin A does not affect cocaine seeking on AD1 but regulates cocaine seeking on AD30 in a bidirectional manner. Next, we found that activin A regulates phosphorylation of NMDA receptor (NMDAR) subunit GluN2B and that GluN2B-containing NMDARs also regulate expression of cocaine seeking on AD30. Activin A and GluN2B-containing NMDARs have both previously been implicated in hippocampal synaptic plasticity. Therefore, we examined synaptic strength in the DH during prolonged abstinence and observed an increase in moderate long-term potentiation (LTP) in cocaine-treated rats compared to saline controls. Lastly, we examined the role of DH projections to the lateral septum (LS), a brain region implicated in cocaine seeking and found that DH projections to the LS govern cocaine seeking on AD30. Taken together, this study demonstrates a role for the DH in relapse behavior following prolonged abstinence from cocaine selfadministration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26460-26469
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number42
StatePublished - Oct 20 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Dorsal hippocampus
  • GluN2B
  • Relapse
  • Substance use disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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