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Sex-specific differences in cannabinoid-induced extracellular-signal-regulated kinase phosphorylation in the cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex, and nucleus accumbens of Lister Hooded rats

Rosas, Michelaa; Porru, Simonaa; Giugliano, Valentinab; Antinori, Silviab; Scheggi, Simonae; Fadda, Paolab,c; Fratta, Walterb,c; Acquas, Elioa,c; Fattore, Lianac,d

doi: 10.1097/FBP.0000000000000395

Sex-dependent differences have been consistently described in cannabinoid addiction research. In particular, we recently reported that female Lister Hooded rats display greater self-administration of the cannabinoid CB1 receptor agonist WIN55,212-2 (WIN) and stronger reinstatement of cannabinoid-seeking behavior than males. Cannabinoids modulate the phosphorylation of the extracellular-signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathway, leading to various forms of plasticity-related learning that likely affect operant behavior. However, whether or not the reported sex-dependent differences in cannabinoid-taking and cannabinoid-seeking behaviors may be related to a sexual dimorphic activation of the ERK pathway remains still to be determined. In the present study, we measured the level of phosphoERK-positive cells in the cingulate cortex (CG1), prefrontal cortex (PFCx), and nucleus accumbens of male and of intact (i.e. sham-operated) and ovariectomized female Lister Hooded rats 30 and 60 min after an acute, intravenous, injection of a dose of WIN (0.3 mg/kg) resembling the mean amount of drug daily self-administered by trained rats. We found that WIN significantly increased ERK activation in the CG1, PFCx, and nucleus accumbens in a sex time and, restricted to the cortical areas, layer-specific manner. Moreover, the comparison between intact and ovariectomized female rats revealed a significant role played by estrogens in WIN-elicited ERK activation. These results indicate, for the first time, the existence of a sexually dimorphic cannabinoid receptor-dependent ERK activation that, restricted to the CG1 and PFCx, is ovarian hormone-dependent.

aDepartment of Life and Environmental Sciences, Pharmaceutical, Pharmacological and Nutraceutical Sciences Section

bDepartment of Biomedical Sciences, Division of Neuroscience and Clinical Pharmacology

cDepartment of Biomedical Sciences, Centre of Excellence ‘Neurobiology of Addiction’, University of Cagliari

dCNR Institute of Neuroscience – Cagliari, National Research Council, Cagliari

eDepartment of Molecular and Developmental Medicine, University of Siena, Siena, Italy

Correspondence to Liana Fattore, PhD, CNR Institute of Neuroscience – Cagliari, National Research Council of Italy, Monserrato, 09042 Cagliari, Italy E-mail:

Received August 19, 2017

Accepted January 29, 2018

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