Recurrent relapse is a major problem in treating opiate addiction. Pavlovian conditioning plays a role in recurrent relapse whereby exposure to cues learned during drug intake can precipitate relapse to drug taking. α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) have been implicated in attentional aspects of cognition and mechanisms of learning and memory. In this study we have investigated the role of α7 nAChRs in morphine-conditioned place preference (morphine-CPP). CPP provides a model of associative learning that is pertinent to associative aspects of drug dependence. The α7 nAChR antagonist methyllycaconitine (MLA; 4 mg/kg s.c.) had no effect on the acquisition, maintenance, reconsolidation or extinction of morphine-CPP but selectively attenuated morphine-primed reinstatement of CPP, in both mice and rats. Reinstatement of morphine-CPP in mice was accompanied by a selective increase in [3 H]-AMPA binding (but not in [3 H]-MK801 binding) in the ventral hippocampus that was prevented by prior treatment with MLA. Administration of MLA (6.7 μg) directly into the ventral hippocampus of rats prior to a systemic priming dose of morphine abolished reinstatement of morphine-CPP, whereas MLA delivered into the dorsal hippocampus or prefrontal cortex was without effect. These results suggest that α7 nAChRs in the ventral hippocampus play a specific role in the retrieval of associative drug memories following a period of extinction, making them potential targets for the prevention of relapse.
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