The α2a-adrenergic receptor (α2a-AR) agonist guanfacine has been investigated as a potential treatment for substance use disorders. While decreasing stress-induced reinstatement of cocaine seeking in animal models and stress-induced craving in human studies, guanfacine has not been reported to decrease relapse rates. Although guanfacine engages α2a-AR autoreceptors, it also activates excitatory Gi-coupled heteroreceptors in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), a key brain region in driving stress-induced relapse. Thus, BNST α2a-AR heteroreceptor signaling might decrease the beneficial efficacy of guanfacine. We aimed to determine the role of α2a-AR heteroreceptors and BNST Gi-GPCR signaling in stress-induced reinstatement of cocaine conditioned place preference (CPP) and the effects of low dose guanfacine on BNST activity and stress-induced reinstatement. We used a genetic deletion strategy and the cocaine CPP procedure to first define the contributions of α2a-AR heteroreceptors to stress-induced reinstatement. Next, we mimicked BNST Gi-coupled α2a-AR heteroreceptor signaling using a Gi-coupled designer receptor exclusively activated by designer drug (Gi-DREADD) approach. Finally, we evaluated the effects of low-dose guanfacine on BNST cFOS immunoreactivity and stress-induced reinstatement. We show that α2a-AR heteroreceptor deletion disrupts stress-induced reinstatement and that BNST Gi-DREADD activation is sufficient to induce reinstatement. Importantly, we found that low-dose guanfacine does not increase BNST activity, but prevents stress-induced reinstatement. Our findings demonstrate a role for α2a-AR heteroreceptors and BNST Gi-GPCR signaling in stress-induced reinstatement of cocaine CPP and provide insight into the impact of dose on the efficacy of guanfacine as a treatment for stress-induced relapse of cocaine use.
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We thank Drs. John D. Allison and Bob Matthews, for technical assistance.
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Perez, R.E., Basu, A., Nabit, B.P. et al. α2A-adrenergic heteroreceptors are required for stress-induced reinstatement of cocaine conditioned place preference. Neuropsychopharmacol. (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-020-0641-z