Ghrelin, an orexigenic hormone produced by the stomach, increases food intake and enhances the locomotor and rewarding effects of cocaine. Consistent with these behavioral effects, ghrelin increases dopamine cell activity in the mesolimbic system resulting in elevated levels of dopamine release and turnover in target regions such as the ventral striatum. In the current study, we examined the psychostimulant effects of acute and daily cocaine in mice with targeted deletion of the ghrelin gene (ghrelin knockout; KO) and that of their wild-type (WT) littermates. We hypothesized that ghrelin-KO mice would be hyporesponsive to the effects of cocaine as reflected in attenuated locomotor activity following both acute and chronic injections, and that this would be correlated with striatal dopamine and dopamine metabolite concentrations. Results show that the locomotor stimulating effect of cocaine (10 mg/kg) was decreased in ghrelin-KO mice as compared with their WT littermates. In addition, repeated daily injection of cocaine resulted in gradual increases in locomotor activity in WT mice, an effect that was attenuated in ghrelin-KO mice. These behavioral effects were correlated with changes in dopamine utilization in the striatum of WT mice that were not seen in ghrelin-KO mice unless these were pretreated with ghrelin. These data suggest that ghrelin is important for normal function of the mesolimbic dopaminergic system, potentially modulating both dopamine release and reuptake.

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Keywords Cocaine, DOPAC, Dopamine, Ghrelin, Locomotor activity, Striatum
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Journal Neuroscience
Abizaid, A, Mineur, Y.S. (Y. S.), Roth, R.H. (R. H.), Elsworth, J.D. (J. D.), Sleeman, M.W. (M. W.), Picciotto, M.R. (M. R.), & Horvath, T.L. (T. L.). (2011). Reduced locomotor responses to cocaine in ghrelin-deficient mice. Neuroscience, 192, 500–506. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.06.001