Histone H3 dopaminylation in nucleus accumbens, but not medial prefrontal cortex, contributes to cocaine-seeking following prolonged abstinence

Andrew F. Stewart, Ashley L. Lepack, Sasha L. Fulton, Polina Safovich, Ian Maze

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1 Scopus citations


Enduring patterns of epigenomic and transcriptional plasticity within the mesolimbic dopamine system contribute importantly to persistent behavioral adaptations that characterize substance use disorders (SUD). While drug addiction has long been thought of as a disorder of dopamine (DA) neurotransmission, therapeutic interventions targeting receptor mediated DA-signaling have not yet resulted in efficacious treatments. Our laboratory recently identified a non-canonical, neurotransmission-independent signaling moiety for DA in brain, termed dopaminylation, whereby DA itself acts as a donor source for the establishment of post-translational modifications (PTM) on substrate proteins (e.g., histone H3 at glutamine 5; H3Q5dop). In our previous studies, we demonstrated that H3Q5dop plays a critical role in the regulation of neuronal transcription and, when perturbed within monoaminergic neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA), critically contributes to pathological states, including relapse vulnerability to both psychostimulants (e.g., cocaine) and opiates (e.g., heroin). Importantly, H3Q5dop is also observed throughout the mesolimbic DA reward pathway (e.g., in nucleus accumbens/NAc and medial prefrontal cortex/mPFC, which receive DA input from VTA). As such, we investigated whether H3Q5dop may similarly be altered in its expression in response to drugs of abuse in these non-dopamine-producing regions. In rats undergoing extended abstinence from cocaine self-administration (SA), we observed both acute and prolonged accumulation of H3Q5dop in NAc, but not mPFC. Attenuation of H3Q5dop in NAc during drug abstinence reduced cocaine-seeking and affected cocaine-induced gene expression programs associated with altered dopamine signaling and neuronal function. These findings thus establish H3Q5dop in NAc, but not mPFC, as an important mediator of cocaine-induced behavioral and transcriptional plasticity during extended cocaine abstinence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103824
JournalMolecular and Cellular Neurosciences
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Cocaine use disorder
  • Cocaine-seeking
  • Gene expression
  • Histone dopaminylation
  • RNA-seq
  • Self-administration


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