Gene expression changes following extinction testing in a heroin behavioral incubation model

Kara L. Kuntz-Melcavage, Robert M. Brucklacher, Patricia S. Grigson, Willard M. Freeman, Kent E. Vrana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Background: A number of gene expression studies have investigated changes induced by drug exposure, but few reports describe changes that persist following relapse. In this study, genome-wide analysis of gene expression was conducted following an extinction session (90 min) in rats that expressed behavioral incubation of heroin-seeking and goal-directed behavior. As an important modulator of goal-directed behavior, the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) was the target of genomic analysis. Rats were trained to self-administer heroin during 3 h daily sessions for 14 d. Following the self-administration period, rats were reintroduced to the self-administration chambers for a 90-minute extinction session in which they could seek heroin, but received none. Extinction sessions were conducted on groups after either 1 d or 14 d of drug-free enforced abstinence to demonstrate behavioral incubation. Results: Behavioral data demonstrated incubation (increased expression) of heroin-seeking and goal-directed behavior after the 14 d abstinent period. That is, following 14 d of enforced abstinence, animals displayed heightened drug-seeking behavior when returned to the environment where they had previously received heroin. This increased drug-seeking took place despite the fact that they received no drug during this extinction session. Whole genome gene expression analysis was performed and results were confirmed by quantitative real-time PCR (RT-qPCR). Microarrays identified 66 genes whose expression was identified as changed by at least 1.4 fold (p < 0.02) following 14 d of abstinence and the 90-minute extinction session compared to the saline treated controls. Orthogonal confirmation by RT-qPCR demonstrated significant alterations in bdnf, calb1, dusp5, dusp6, egr1, npy, rgs2. Conclusion: Ontological analysis indicates that several of the genes confirmed to be changed are important for neuroplasticity, and through that role may impact learning and behavior. The importance of drug-seeking behavior and memory of previous drug-taking sessions suggest that such genes may be important for relapse. The global gene expression analysis adds to the knowledge of heroin-induced changes and further highlights similarities between heroin and other drugs of abuse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number95
JournalBMC Neuroscience
StatePublished - Aug 7 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Gene expression changes following extinction testing in a heroin behavioral incubation model'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this