The dynorphin (DYN)/kappa-opioid receptor (KOR) system plays a conserved role in stress-induced reinstatement of drug seeking for prototypical substances of abuse. Due to nicotine's high propensity for stress-induced relapse, we hypothesized that stress would induce reinstatement of nicotine seeking-like behavior in a KOR-dependent manner. Using a conditioned place preference (CPP) reinstatement procedure in mice, we show that both foot-shock stress and the pharmacological stressor yohimbine (2 mg/kg, i.p.) induce reinstatement of nicotine CPP in a norbinaltorphimine (norBNI, a KOR antagonist)-sensitive manner, indicating that KOR activity is necessary for stress-induced nicotine CPP reinstatement. After reinstatement testing, we visualized robust c-fos expression in the basolateral amygdala (BLA), which was reduced in mice pretreated with norBNI. We then used several distinct but complementary approaches of locally disrupting BLA KOR activity to assess the role of KORs and KOR-coupled intracellular signaling cascades on reinstatement of nicotine CPP. norBNI injected locally into the BLA prevented yohimbine-induced nicotine CPP reinstatement without affecting CPP acquisition. Similarly, selective deletion of BLA KORs in KOR conditional knock-out mice prevented foot-shock-induced CPP reinstatement. Together, these findings strongly implicate BLA KORs in stress-induced nicotine seeking-like behavior. In addition, we found that chemogenetic activation of Gαi signaling within CaMKIIα BLA neurons was sufficient to induce nicotine CPP reinstatement, identifying an anatomically specific intracellular mechanism by which stress leads to reinstatement. Considered together, our findings suggest that activation of the DYN/KOR system and Gαi signaling within the BLA is both necessary and sufficient to produce reinstatement of nicotine preference.
Considering the major impact of nicotine use on human health, understanding the mechanisms by which stress triggers reinstatement of drug-seeking behaviors is particularly pertinent to nicotine. The dynorphin (DYN)/kappa-opioid receptor (KOR) system has been implicated in stress-induced reinstatement of drug seeking for other commonly abused drugs. However, the specific role, brain region, and mechanisms that this system plays in reinstatement of nicotine seeking has not been characterized. Here, we report region-specific engagement of the DYN/KOR system and subsequent activation of inhibitory (Gi-linked) intracellular signaling pathways within the basolateral amygdala during stress-induced reinstatement of nicotine preference. We show that the DYN/KOR system is necessary to produce this behavioral state. This work may provide novel insight for the development of therapeutic approaches to prevent stress-related nicotine relapse.