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Differential roles of oxytocin receptors in the prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens on cocaine self-administration and reinstatement of cued cocaine seeking in male rats.

BACKGROUND: Little is known about the specific roles of cortical and accumbal oxytocin receptors in drug use disorder. To better understand the importance of the endogenous oxytocin system in cocaine relapse behavior, we developed an adeno-associated viral vector (AAV) expressing short hairpin (sh) RNAs to selectively degrade the rat OxyR mRNA in vivo.

METHODS: Male (Sprague-Dawley) rats received bilateral infusions of the shRNA for the oxytocin receptor (shOxyR) or an shRNA control virus (shCntrl) into the prefrontal cortex (PFC) or the nucleus accumbens core (NAc). Rats self-administered cocaine on an escalating FR ratio for 14 days, lever responding was extinguished, and rats tested for cued and cocaine-primed reinstatement of drug seeking.

RESULTS: OxyR knockdown in the PFC delayed the acquisition of lever pressing on an FR1 schedule of reinforcement. All rats eventually acquired the same level of lever pressing and discrimination and there were no differences in extinction. OxyR knockdown in the NAc had no effect during acquisition. In both the PFC and the NAc, the shOxyR decreased cued reinstatement relative to shCntrl, but was without effect during drug primed reinstatement. OxyR knockdown in the PFC increased chamber activity during a social interaction task.

CONCLUSIONS: This study provides critical new information about how endogenous OxyRs function to impact drug seeking in response to different precipitators of relapse. The tool developed to knockdown OxyRs in rat could provide important new insights that aid development of oxytocin-based therapeutics to reduce return to use episodes in people with substance use disorder and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

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