Sensitized activation of Fos and brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the medial prefrontal cortex and ventral tegmental area accompanies behavioral sensitization to amphetamine

Sanya Fanous, Michael J. Lacagnina, Ella M. Nikulina, Ronald P. Hammer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations


Behavioral sensitization, or augmented locomotor response to successive drug exposures, results from neuroadaptive changes contributing to addiction. Both the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and ventral tegmental area (VTA) influence behavioral sensitization and display increased immediate-early gene and BDNF expression after psychostimulant administration. Here we investigate whether mPFC neurons innervating the VTA exhibit altered Fos or BDNF expression during long-term sensitization to amphetamine. Male Sprague-Dawley rats underwent unilateral intra-VTA infusion of the retrograde tracer Fluorogold (FG), followed by 5 daily injections of either amphetamine (2.5 mg/kg, i.p.) or saline vehicle. Four weeks later, rats were challenged with amphetamine (1.0 mg/kg, i.p.) or saline (1.0 mL/kg, i.p.). Repeated amphetamine treatment produced locomotor sensitization upon drug challenge. Two hours later, rats were euthanized, and mPFC sections were double-immunolabeled for either Fos-FG or Fos-BDNF. Tissue from the VTA was also double-immunolabeled for Fos-BDNF. Amphetamine challenge increased Fos and BDNF expression in the mPFC regardless of prior drug experience, and further augmented mPFC BDNF expression in sensitized rats. Similarly, more Fos-FG and Fos-BDNF double-labeling was observed in the mPFC of sensitized rats compared to drug-naïve rats after amphetamine challenge. Repeated amphetamine treatment also increased VTA BDNF, while both acute and repeated amphetamine treatment increased Fos and Fos-BDNF co-labeling, an effect enhanced in sensitized rats. These findings point to a role of cortico-tegmental BDNF in long-term amphetamine sensitization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)558-564
Number of pages7
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 1 2011



  • Amphetamine
  • BDNF
  • Fluorogold
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Sensitization
  • Ventral tegmental area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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