Vulnerability to drug addiction relies on substantial individual differences. We previously demonstrated that serotonin transporter knockout (SERT ) rats show increased cocaine intake and develop signs of compulsivity. However, the underlying neural mechanisms are not fully understood. Given the pivotal role of glutamate and prefrontal cortex in cocaine-seeking behavior, we sought to investigate the expression of proteins implicated in glutamate neurotransmission in the prefrontal cortex of naïve and cocaine-exposed rats lacking SERT. We focused on the infralimbic (ILc) and prelimbic (PLc) cortices, which are theorized to exert opposing effects on the control over subcortical brain areas. SERT rats, which compared to wild-type (SERT ) rats show increased ShA and LgA intake short-access (ShA) and long-access (LgA) cocaine intake, were sacrificed 24 h into withdrawal for ex vivo molecular analyses. In the ILc homogenate of SERT rats, we observed a sharp increase in glial glutamate transporter 1 (GLT-1) after ShA, but not LgA, cocaine intake. This was paralleled by ShA-induced increases in GluN1, GluN2A, and GluN2B NMDA receptor subunits and their scaffolding protein SAP102 in the ILc homogenate, but not postsynaptic density, of these knockout animals. In the PLc, we found no major changes in the homogenate; conversely, the expression of GluN1 and GluN2A NMDA receptor subunits was increased in the postsynaptic density under ShA conditions and reduced under LgA conditions. These results point to SERT as a critical regulator of glutamate homeostasis in a way that differs between the subregions investigated, the duration of cocaine exposure as well as the cellular compartment analyzed.
© 2020 The Authors. Addiction Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Society for the Study of Addiction.