Anatomy and Cell Biology Publications

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Natural reward and drugs of abuse converge upon the mesolimbic system which mediates motivation and reward behaviors. Drugs induce neural adaptations in this system, including transcriptional, morphological, and synaptic changes, which contribute to the development and expression of drug-related memories and addiction. Previously, it has been reported that sexual experience in male rats, a natural reward behavior, induces similar neuroplasticity in the mesolimbic system and affects natural reward and drug-related behavior. The current study determined whether sexual experience causes long-lasting changes in mating, or ionotropic glutamate receptor trafficking or function in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), following 3 different reward abstinence periods: 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month after final mating session. Male Sprague Dawley rats mated during 5 consecutive days (sexual experience) or remained sexually naı¨ve to serve as controls. Sexually experienced males displayed facilitation of initiation and performance of mating at each time point. Next, intracellular and membrane surface expression of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA: NR1 subunit) and a-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4- propionate (AMPA: GluA1, GluA2 subunits) receptors in the NAc was determined using a bis(sulfosuccinimidyl)suberate (BS3 ) protein cross-linking assay followed by Western Blot analysis. NR1 expression was increased at 1 day abstinence both at surface and intracellular, but decreased at surface at 1 week of abstinence. GluA2 was increased intracellularly at 1 week and increased at the surface after 1 month of abstinence. Finally, whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiological recordings determined reduced AMPA/NMDA ratio of synaptic currents in NAc shell neurons following stimulation of cortical afferents in sexually experienced males after all reward abstinence periods. Together, these data show that sexual experience causes long-term alterations in glutamate receptor expression and function in the NAc. Although not identical, this sex experienceinduced neuroplasticity has similarities to that caused by psychostimulants, suggesting common mechanisms for reinforcement of natural and drug reward.

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