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CREST in the Nucleus Accumbens Core Regulates Cocaine Conditioned Place Preference, Cocaine-Seeking Behavior, and Synaptic Plasticity


Epigenetic mechanisms result in persistent changes at the cellular level that can lead to long-lasting behavioral adaptations. Nucleosome remodeling is a major epigenetic mechanism that has not been well explored with regards to drug-seeking behaviors. Nucleosome remodeling is performed by multi-subunit complexes that interact with DNA or chromatin structure and possess an ATP-dependent enzyme to disrupt nucleosome-DNA contacts and ultimately regulate gene expression. Calcium responsive transactivator (CREST) is a transcriptional activator that interacts with enzymes involved in both histone acetylation and nucleosome remodeling. Here, we examined the effects of knocking down CREST in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) core on drug-seeking behavior and synaptic plasticity in male mice as well as drug-seeking in male rats. Knocking down CREST in the NAc core results in impaired cocaine-induced conditioned place preference (CPP) as well as theta-induced long-term potentiation in the NAc core. Further, similar to the CPP findings, using a self-administration procedure, we found that CREST knockdown in the NAc core of male rats had no effect on instrumental responding for cocaine itself on a first-order schedule, but did significantly attenuate responding on a second-order chain schedule, in which responding has a weaker association with cocaine. Together, these results suggest that CREST in the NAc core is required for cocaine-induced CPP, synaptic plasticity, as well as cocaine-seeking behavior.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT This study demonstrates a key role for the role of Calcium responsive transactivator (CREST), a transcriptional activator, in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) core with regard to cocaine-induced conditioned place preference (CPP), self-administration (SA), and synaptic plasticity. CREST is a unique transcriptional regulator that can recruit enzymes from two different major epigenetic mechanisms: histone acetylation and nucleosome remodeling. In this study we also found that the level of potentiation in the NAc core correlated with whether or not animals formed a CPP. Together the results indicate that CREST is a key downstream regulator of cocaine action in the NAc.

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