Differential sensitivity of the perioculomotor urocortin-containing neurons to ethanol, psychostimulants and stress in mice and rats

E. Spangler, D. M. Cote, A. M.J. Anacker, G. P. Mark, A. E. Ryabinin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The perioculomotor urocortin-containing population of neurons (pIIIu: otherwise known as the non-preganglionic Edinger-Westphal nucleus) is sensitive to alcohol and is involved in the regulation of alcohol intake. A recent study indicated that this brain region is also sensitive to psychostimulants. Since pIIIu has been shown to respond to stress, we investigated how psychostimulant-induced pIIIu activation compares to stress- and ethanol-induced activation, and whether it is independent from a generalized stress response. Several experiments were performed to test how the pIIIu responds to psychostimulants by quantifying the number of Fos immunoreactive nuclei after acute i.p. injections of saline, 10-30 mg/kg cocaine, 5 mg/kg methamphetamine, 5 mg/kg amphetamine, 2.5 g/kg ethanol, 2 h of restraint stress, 10 min of swim stress, or six applications of mild foot shock in male C57BL/6 J mice. We also compared Fos immunoreactivity in pIIIu after acute (20 mg/kg cocaine) and repeated cocaine exposure (7 days of 20 mg/kg cocaine) injections in male C57BL/6 J mice in order to investigate the potential habituation of this response. Finally, we quantified the number of Fos immunoreactive nuclei in pIIIu after administration of saline, 2.5 g/kg ethanol, 20 mg/kg cocaine, or 2 h of restraint stress in male Sprague-Dawley rats. We found that exposure to psychostimulants and ethanol induced significantly higher Fos levels in pIIIu compared to stress in mice. Furthermore, repeated cocaine injections did not decrease Fos immunoreactivity as would be expected if this response were due to stress. In rats, exposure to ethanol, psychostimulant and restraint stress all induced pIIIu Fos immunoreactivity compared to saline-injected controls. In both mice and rats, ethanol- and cocaine-induced Fos immunoreactivity occurred exclusively in urocortin 1-positive, but not in tyrosine hydroxylase-positive, cells. These results provide evidence that the pIIIu Fos-response to psychostimulants is independent of a generalized stress in mice, but not rats. They additionally show that the pIIIu response to stress differs significantly between species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-125
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 21 2009


  • corticotropin-releasing factor
  • drug abuse
  • midbrain
  • nucleus accumbens
  • paraventricular nucleus of hypothalamus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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