Exercise craving potentiates excitatory inputs to ventral tegmental area dopaminergic neurons

Maria‐Carmen Medrano, Imane Hurel, Emma Mesguich, Bastien Redon, Christopher Stevens, François Georges, Miriam Melis, Giovanni Marsicano, Francis Chaouloff
Addiction Biology. 2020-10-05; :
DOI: 10.1111/adb.12967

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Medrano MC(1)(2), Hurel I(1)(2), Mesguich E(1)(2), Redon B(1)(2), Stevens C(1)(2)(3), Georges F(2)(4), Melis M(5), Marsicano G(1)(2), Chaouloff F(1)(2).

Author information:

(1)Endocannabinoids and NeuroAdaptation, NeuroCentre INSERM U1215, Bordeaux, France.
(2)Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France.
(3)Pathophysiology of Declarative Memory, NeuroCentre INSERM U1215, Bordeaux, France.
(4)Institut de Neurosciences Cognitives et Intégratives d’Aquitaine, CNRS UMR 5293, Bordeaux, France.
(5)Department of Biomedical Sciences, Division of Neuroscience and Clinical Pharmacology, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy.

Physical exercise, which can be addictogenic on its own, is considered a therapeutic alternative for drug craving. Exercise might thus share with drugs the ability to strengthen excitatory synapses onto ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopaminergic neurones, as assessed by the ratio of AMPA receptor (AMPAR)-mediated excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) to NMDA receptor (NMDAR)-mediated EPSCs. As did acute cocaine, amphetamine, or Δ9 -tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) pretreatments, an acute 1-h wheel-running session increased the AMPAR/NMDAR ratio in VTA dopaminergic neurones. To dissect the  respective influences of wheel-running seeking and performance, mice went through an operant protocol wherein wheel-running was conditioned by nose poking under fixed ratio schedules of reinforcement. Conditioned wheel-running increased the AMPAR/NMDAR ratio to a higher extent than free wheel-running, doing so although running performance was lower in the former paradigm than in the latter. Thus, the cue-reward association, rather than reward consumption, played a major role in this increase. The AMPAR/NMDAR ratio returned to baseline levels in mice that had extinguished the cued-running motivated task, but it increased after a cue-induced reinstatement session. The amplitude of this increase correlated with the intensity of exercise craving, as assessed by individual nose poke scores. Finally, cue-induced reinstatement of running seeking proved insensitive to acute cocaine or THC pretreatments. Our study reveals for the first time that the drive for exercise bears synaptic influences on VTA dopaminergic neurones which are reminiscent of drug actions. Whether these influences play a role in the therapeutic effects of exercise in human drug craving remains to be established.

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