Regulation of a protein phosphatase cascade allows convergent dopamine and glutamate signals to activate ERK in the striatum. Academic Article uri icon


  • Many drugs of abuse exert their addictive effects by increasing extracellular dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, where they likely alter the plasticity of corticostriatal glutamatergic transmission. This mechanism implies key molecular alterations in neurons in which both dopamine and glutamate inputs are activated. Extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), an enzyme important for long-term synaptic plasticity, is a good candidate for playing such a role. Here, we show in mouse that d-amphetamine activates ERK in a subset of medium-size spiny neurons of the dorsal striatum and nucleus accumbens, through the combined action of glutamate NMDA and D1-dopamine receptors. Activation of ERK by d-amphetamine or by widely abused drugs, including cocaine, nicotine, morphine, and Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol was absent in mice lacking dopamine- and cAMP-regulated phosphoprotein of M(r) 32,000 (DARPP-32). The effects of d-amphetamine or cocaine on ERK activation in the striatum, but not in the prefrontal cortex, were prevented by point mutation of Thr-34, a DARPP-32 residue specifically involved in protein phosphatase-1 inhibition. Regulation by DARPP-32 occurred both upstream of ERK and at the level of striatal-enriched tyrosine phosphatase (STEP). Blockade of the ERK pathway or mutation of DARPP-32 altered locomotor sensitization induced by a single injection of psychostimulants, demonstrating the functional relevance of this regulation. Thus, activation of ERK, by a multilevel protein phosphatase-controlled mechanism, functions as a detector of coincidence of dopamine and glutamate signals converging on medium-size striatal neurons and is critical for long-lasting effects of drugs of abuse.

publication date

  • January 1, 2005