Comparison of mesocorticolimbic neuronal responses during cocaine and heroin self-administration in freely moving rats

Jing Yu Chang, Patricia H. Janak, Donald J. Woodward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To compare neuronal activity within the mesocorticolimbic circuit during the self-administration of cocaine and heroin, multiple-channel single-unit recordings of spike activity within the rat medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) were obtained during the consecutive self- administration of cocaine and heroin within the same session. The variety of neuronal responses observed before the lever press are termed anticipatory responses, and those observed after the lever press are called post-drug infusion responses. For the total of the 110 mPFC and 111 NAc neurons recorded, 30-50% of neurons, depending on the individual sessions, had no alteration in spike activity in relation to either cocaine or heroin self- administration. Among the neurons exhibiting significant neuronal responses during a self-administration session, only a small portion (16-25%) of neurons responded similarly under both reinforcement conditions; the majority of neurons (75-84%) responded differently to cocaine and heroin self- administration as revealed by variations in both anticipatory and/or post- drug infusion responses. A detailed video analysis of specific movements to obtain the self-administration of both drugs provided evidence against the possibility that locomotive differences contributed to the observed differences in anticipatory responses. The overall mean activity of neurons recorded in mPFC and NAc measured across the duration of the session segment for either cocaine or heroin self-administration also was different for some neurons under the two reinforcement conditions. This study provides direct evidence that, in mPFC and NAc, heterogeneous neuronal circuits mediate cocaine and heroin self-administration and that distinct, but overlapping, subpopulations of neurons in these areas become active during operant responding for different reinforcers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3098-3115
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 15 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavior
  • Cocaine
  • Drug abuse
  • Electrophysiology
  • Heroin
  • Medial prefrontal cortex
  • Mesocorticolimbic system
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Reinforcement
  • Reward

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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