Behavioral sensitization to cocaine: cooperation between glucocorticoids and epinephrine

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Psychopharmacology, Volume 204, Number 4, p.693-703 (2009)


1432-2072 (Electronic)00

DOI Name (links to online publication)



Adrenalectomy; Animals; Behavior; Animal/*drug effects; Cocaine/administration; &; dosage/*pharmacology; Corticosterone/administration; &; dosage/metabolism; Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors/administration; &; dosage/*pharmacology; Epinephrine/administrat


RATIONALE: Stressful life experiences facilitate responsiveness to psychostimulant drugs. While there is ample evidence that adrenal glucocorticoids mediate these effects of stress, the role of the sympatho-adrenal system in the effects of psychostimulants is poorly understood. OBJECTIVES: The present study investigated the role of the two adrenal stress hormones, corticosterone and epinephrine, in sensitization to the locomotor stimulant effects of cocaine. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The DBA/2 mouse strain was used, as behavioral sensitization in this strain critically depends on adrenal hormones. Animals were subjected to adrenalectomy ("ADX", surgical removal of the adrenals) or SHAM surgery, and ADX mice were given replacement of epinephrine (5 x 10(-3) mg/kg subcutaneously (s.c.) just prior to each drug administration), corticosterone (20%, s.c., pellet), or both. Mice were subjected to a cocaine sensitization regimen (15.0 mg/kg cocaine on nine consecutive days followed by a 7.5 mg/kg cocaine challenge after a 5-day withdrawal). RESULTS: In agreement with our previous observations, ADX prevented initiation and expression of cocaine-induced locomotor sensitization. Whereas neither corticosterone nor epinephrine alone were sufficient to reverse the ADX effect, both hormones were necessary to fully restore initiation and retention of sensitization to levels observed in SHAM animals. CONCLUSIONS: The present findings indicate that corticosterone and epinephrine cooperate to facilitate behavioral responsiveness to cocaine. These data emphasize that in addition to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the sympathetic nervous system plays a critical role in psychostimulant sensitivity.