Epigenetic mechanisms result in persistent changes at the cellular level that can lead to long-lasting behavioral adaptations. Nucleosome remodeling is a major epigenetic mechanism that has not been well explored with regards to drug-seeking behaviors. Nucleosome remodeling is performed by multi-subunit complexes that interact with DNA or chromatin structure and possess an ATP-dependent enzyme to disrupt nucleosome-DNA contacts and ultimately regulate gene expression. Calcium responsive transactivator (CREST) is a transcriptional activator that interacts with enzymes involved in both histone acetylation and nucleosome remodeling. Here, we examined the effects of knocking down CREST in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) core on drug-seeking behavior and synaptic plasticity in male mice as well as drug-seeking in male rats. Knocking down CREST in the NAc core results in impaired cocaine-induced conditioned place preference (CPP) as well as theta-induced long-term potentiation in the NAc core. Further, similar to the CPP findings, using a self-administration procedure, we found that CREST knockdown in the NAc core of male rats had no effect on instrumental responding for cocaine itself on a first-order schedule, but did significantly attenuate responding on a second-order chain schedule, in which responding has a weaker association with cocaine. Together, these results suggest that CREST in the NAc core is required for cocaine-induced CPP, synaptic plasticity, as well as cocaine-seeking behavior.
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