Neuronal and behavioral correlations in the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens during cocaine self-administration by rats

J. Y. Chang, P. H. Janak, D. J. Woodward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Up to 31 neurons per animal were simultaneously recorded from the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens in 15 rats during i.v. cocaine self-administration sessions, using a multi-channel, single-unit recording technique. Alterations of neuronal activity (both excitatory and inhibitory) were found a few seconds before each lever press for cocaine infusion; we have called these pre-lever press neuronal activations 'anticipatory responses'. A detailed video analysis revealed that these neuronal firing alterations were associated with specific portions of the behavioral sequence performed before each lever press in both recording areas. Some of the simultaneously recorded neurons displayed similar firing patterns in relation to a given behavioral episode within the behavioral sequence (turning, raising head, etc.), while others fired at different times relative to each behavioral event. Cross-correlational analyses revealed inter-regional and intra-regional correlated firing patterns between pairs of simultaneously recorded medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens neurons. This correlated firing occurred in the neurons with and without anticipatory responses, although the incidence of correlations between anticipatory neuron pairs was much higher than that between non-anticipatory neuron pairs (18.4% vs 3.6%). Many correlated neuron pairs displayed a time lag in the peak of correlational activity that indicated a temporal sequence in correlated activity. In contradiction to our hypothesis, the temporal pattern of correlation reveals that there are more cases in which nucleus accumbens neurons fired ahead of medial prefrontal cortex neurons.The results suggest that multiple mesocorticolimbic neuronal circuits may code sequential steps during the behavioral sequence performed to obtain an infusion of cocaine. The observed correlated firing between the medial prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens indicates that dynamic, coherent activity occurs within the mesocorticolimbic circuit. Because this circuit is hypothesized to drive drug-seeking behavior, we suggest that this correlated firing between the nucleus accumbens and the medial prefrontal cortex may participate in the control of cocaine self-administration. In addition, the finding that correlated activity within the nucleus accumbens more often precedes that of the medial prefrontal cortex suggests that the nucleus accumbens may play a prime role in the initiation of cocaine self-administration. Copyright (C) 2000 IBRO.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)433-443
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 16 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Cross-correlation
  • Mesocorticolimbic system
  • Neuronal circuitry
  • Rats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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