Relapse induced by cues predicting cocaine depends on rapid, transient synaptic potentiation

Cassandra D. Gipson*, Yonatan M. Kupchik, Haowei Shen, Kathryn J. Reissner, Charles A. Thomas, Peter W. Kalivas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

172 Scopus citations


Cocaine addiction is characterized by long-lasting vulnerability to relapse arising because neutral environmental stimuli become associated with drug use and then act as cues that induce relapse. It is not known how cues elicit cocaine seeking, and why cocaine seeking is more difficult to regulate than seeking a natural reward. We found that cocaineassociated cues initiate cocaine seeking by inducing a rapid, transient increase in dendritic spine size and synaptic strength in the nucleus accumbens. These changes required neural activity in the prefrontal cortex. This is not the case when identical cues were associated with obtaining sucrose, which did not elicit changes in spine size or synaptic strength. The marked cue-induced synaptic changes in the accumbens were correlated with the intensity of cocaine, but not sucrose seeking, and may explain the difficulty addicts experience in managing relapse to cocaine use.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)867-872
Number of pages6
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Dr. Rachel Smith, Dr. Joshua Beckmann, Megan Hensley, Brenton Mahaffey, Rebecca Szer, and Phong Do for technical assistance. This work was supported by DA007288, DA033690 (C.D.G.), DA003906, DA012513, and DA015369 (P.W.K.) grants from the National Institutes of Health.


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