Behavioral sensitization to cocaine after a brief social defeat stress: c-fos expression in the PAG

Klaus A. Miczek, Ella Nikulina, Richard M. Kream, Gregory Carter, Emilio F. Espejo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


The experiments explored the nature and time course of changes in behavior and Fos expression in the periaqueductal grey area (PAG) in response to an injection of cocaine that was given following a single episode of social defeat stress. Social defeat stress was defined as an intruder mouse's response to an aggressive resident mouse. First, the intruder was briefly attacked, and secondly, it was threatened while protected by a perforated cage for 20 min. Plasma corticosterone levels rose after the beginning of the confrontation and remained elevated during the protected phase. In a first experiment, separate groups of intruder and control mice were challenged once with cocaine (20, 30, or 40 mg/kg) or saline. During tests for motor activity, behavioral measurements were obtained via (1) photobeam interruptions, (2) tracking of movements via image analysis, and (3) quantitative ethological analysis of postures and acts via videorecords. Several indices of ambulatory or horizontal forward locomotion confirmed the stimulant effects of cocaine. In a further experiment, separate groups of mice were challenged with 40 mg/kg cocaine at one time point, either during the social stress or 3, 5, 7 or 9 days thereafter. A cocaine challenge significantly increased locomotion 5 and 7 days after a brief social defeat stress, in excess of the level that is seen in nonstressed animals. Further experiments used immunohistochemical assays of sections through the caudal ventrolateral PAG and showed a significant increase in Fos-like immunoreactivity (Fos-LI) 1 h after the social stress experience or after cocaine. Importantly, concurrent administration of cocaine with social defeat stress produced inhibition of Fos expression throughout the PAG. A partial to complete recovery of cocaine-induced Fos expression was observed 5-7 days after social defeat stress. The results suggest that a single social stress episode is sufficient to engender a delayed sensitization of stimulant hyperactivity. The initial inhibition of Fos expression by concurrent social stress and cocaine may point to a relevant initiating event in the process of sensitization to stimulants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-234
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1999


  • Aggression
  • Agonistic behavior
  • Cocaine
  • Defeat
  • Fos expression
  • Immediate early gene
  • Periaqueductal grey area
  • Psychomotor stimulants
  • Reward
  • Sensitization
  • Social behavior
  • Stereotypy
  • Stress
  • c- fos

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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