Exposure to drug-associated cues can induce drug craving and relapse in abstinent addicts. Cue-induced craving that progressively intensifies (“incubates”) during withdrawal from cocaine has been observed in both rats and humans. Building on recent evidence that aberrant protein translation underlies incubation-related adaptations in the NAc, we used male rats to test the hypothesis that translation is dysregulated during cocaine withdrawal and/or when rats express incubated cocaine craving. We found that intra-NAc infusion of anisomycin, a general protein translation inhibitor, or rapamycin, an inhibitor of mammalian target of rapamycin, reduced the expression of incubated cocaine craving, consistent with previous results showing that inhibition of translation in slices normalized the adaptations that maintain incubation. We then examined signaling pathways involved in protein translation using NAc synaptoneuro-somes prepared after ☓47 d of withdrawal from cocaine or saline self-administration, or after withdrawal plus a cue-induced seeking test. The most robust changes were observed following seeking tests. Most notably, we found that eukaryotic elongation factor 2 (eEF2) and eukaryotic initiation factor 2β (eIF2β) are dephosphorylated when cocaine rats undergo a cue-induced seeking test; both effects are consistent with increased translation during the test. Blocking eIF2β dephosphorylation and thereby restoring its inhibitory influence on translation, via intra-NAc injection of Sal003 just before the test, substantially reduced cocaine seeking. These results are consistent with dysregulation of protein translation in the NAc during cocaine withdrawal, enabling cocaine cues to elicit an aberrant increase in translation that is required for the expression of incubated cocaine craving.
- Protein translation
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