Previous evidence pointed out a role for the striatal-enriched protein Rhes in modulating dopaminergic transmission. Based on the knowledge that cocaine induces both addiction and motor stimulation, through its ability to enhance dopaminergic signaling in the corpus striatum, we have now explored the involvement of Rhes in the effects associated with this psychostimulant. Our behavioral data showed that a lack of Rhes in knockout animals caused profound alterations in motor stimulation following cocaine exposure, eliciting a significant leftward shift in the dose-response curve and triggering a dramatic hyperactivity. We also found that Rhes modulated either short- or long-term motor sensitization induced by cocaine, since lack of this protein prevents both of them in mutants. Consistent with this in vivo observation, we found that lack of Rhes in mice caused a greater increase in striatal cocaine-dependent D1R/cAMP/PKA signaling, along with considerable enhancement of Arc, zif268, and Homer1 mRNA expression. We also documented that lack of Rhes in mice produced cocaine-related striatal alterations in proteomic profiling, with a differential expression of proteins clustering in calcium homeostasis and cytoskeletal protein binding categories. Despite dramatic striatal alterations associated to cocaine exposure, our data did not reveal any significant changes in midbrain dopaminergic neurons as a lack of Rhes did not affect: (i) DAT activity; (ii) D2R-dependent regulation of GIRK; and (iii) D2R-dependent regulation of dopamine release. Collectively, our results strengthen the view that Rhes acts as a pivotal physiological “molecular brake” for striatal dopaminergic system overactivation induced by psychostimulants, thus making this protein of interest in regulating the molecular mechanism underpinning cocaine-dependent motor stimulatory effects.
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