Repeated cocaine use induces coordinated changes in gene expression that drive plasticity in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), an important component of the brain’s reward circuitry, and promote the development of maladaptive, addiction-like behaviors. Studies on the molecular basis of cocaine action identify transcription factors, a class of proteins that bind to specific DNA sequences and regulate transcription, as critical mediators of this cocaine-induced plasticity. Early methods to identify and study transcription factors involved in addiction pathophysiology primarily relied on quantifying the expression of candidate genes in bulk brain tissue after chronic cocaine treatment, as well as conventional overexpression and knockdown techniques. More recently, advances in next generation sequencing, bioinformatics, cell-type-specific targeting, and locus-specific neuroepigenomic editing offer a more powerful, unbiased toolbox to identify the most important transcription factors that drive drug-induced plasticity and to causally define their downstream molecular mechanisms. Here, we synthesize the literature on transcription factors mediating cocaine action in the NAc, discuss the advancements and remaining limitations of current experimental approaches, and emphasize recent work leveraging bioinformatic tools and neuroepigenomic editing to study transcription factors involved in cocaine addiction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-709
Number of pages23
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


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