Clinical evidence suggests that there are correlations between activity within the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) following re-exposure to drug-associated contexts and drug craving. However, there are limited data contributing to our understanding of ACC function at the cellular level during re-exposure to drug-context associations as well as whether the ACC is directly related to context-induced drug seeking. Here, we addressed this issue by employing our novel behavioral procedure capable of measuring the formation of drug-context associations as well as context-induced drug-seeking behavior in male mice (8–12 weeks of age) that orally self-administered oxycodone. We found that mice escalated oxycodone intake during the long-access training sessions and that conditioning with oxycodone was sufficient to evoke conditioned place preference (CPP) and drug-seeking behaviors. Additionally, we found that thick-tufted, but not thin-tufted pyramidal neurons (PyNs) in the ACC as well as ventral tegmental area (VTA)-projecting ACC neurons had increased intrinsic membrane excitability in mice that self-administered oxycodone compared to controls. Moreover, we found that global inhibition of the ACC or inhibition of VTA-projecting ACC neurons was sufficient to significantly reduce oxycodone-induced CPP, drug seeking, and spontaneous opioid withdrawal. These results demonstrate a direct role of ACC activity in mediating context-induced opioid seeking among other behaviors, including withdrawal, that are associated with the DSM-V criteria of opioid use disorder.
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