Abstract:Among the neuroadaptations underlying the expression of cocaine-induced behaviors are modifications in glutamate-mediated signaling and synaptic plasticity via activation of mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) within the nucleus accumbens (NAc). We hypothesized that exposure to cocaine leads to alterations in MAPK signaling in NAc neurons, which facilitates changes in the glutamatergic system and thus behavioral changes. We have previously shown that following withdrawal from cocaine-induced behavioral sensitization (BS), an increase in glutamate receptor expression and elevated MAPK signaling was evident. Here, we set out to determine the time course and behavioral consequences of inhibition of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) or NMDA receptors following withdrawal from BS. We found that inhibiting ERK by microinjection of U0126 into the NAc at 1 or 6 days following withdrawal from BS did not affect the expression of BS when challenged with cocaine at 14 days. However, inhibition of ERK 1 day before the cocaine challenge abolished the expression of BS. We also inhibited NR2B-containing NMDA receptors in the NAc by microinjection of ifenprodil into the NAc following withdrawal from BS, which had no effect on the expression of BS. However, microinjection of ifenprodil to the NAc 1 day before challenge attenuated the expression of BS similar to ERK inhibition. These results suggest that following a prolonged period of withdrawal, NR2B-containing NMDA receptors and ERK activity play a critical role in the expression of cocaine behavioral sensitization.