Cocaine upregulates the dopamine transporter in fetal rhesus monkey brain

Yuan Fang, Oline K. Rønnekleiv

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36 Scopus citations


Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that binds to the dopamine transporter (DAT), inhibits the reuptake of dopamine, and initiates multiple actions within midbrain dopaminergic systems. Using the rhesus monkey, we have investigated the consequences of in utero cocaine exposure on the expression of DAT in the fetal brain. By using the selective DAT ligand [125I]RTI-121 and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunocytochemistry, we found that DAT binding sites are highly developed by day 70 of gestation and show a distribution pattern similar to TH. The rank order of specific 3β-(4- [125I]iodophenyl)tropane-2β-carboxylic acid isopropyl ester ([125I]RTI-121) binding densities was substantia nigra-ventral tegmental area > putamen > caudate > lateral hypothalamus > accumbens > linear/interfascicular nuclei ≥ globus pallidus > prefrontal cortex. Furthermore, we observed that DAT mRNA was differentially expressed within fetal midbrain dopamine neurons with the highest levels detected in the ventral tier of the substantia nigra pars compacta, and the lowest levels in the ventral tegmental area and the linear/interfascicular nuclei. In utero cocaine exposure between days 22 and 70 significantly increased DAT mRNA expression, and the density of [125I]RTI-121 binding sites within midbrain dopamine neurons in the 70-d-old fetus. This increased DAT expression is accompanied by other presynaptic and postsynaptic neuronal changes, which collectively suggest that midbrain dopamine neurons are hypoactive after prolonged cocaine exposure, a state that may be a contributing factor in the development of attention deficit disorders observed in subjects exposed prenatally to cocaine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8966-8978
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 15 1999


  • Autoradiography
  • Cocaine
  • Dopamine transporter
  • Fetus
  • Immunocytochemistry
  • In situ hybridization histochemistry
  • Rhesus monkey
  • Tyrosine hydroxylase
  • [I]RTI-121

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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