Epigenetic processes that regulate histone acetylation play an essential role in behavioral and molecular responses to cocaine. To date, however, only a small fraction of the mechanisms involved in the addiction-associated acetylome have been investigated. Members of the bromodomain and extraterminal (BET) family of epigenetic “reader” proteins (BRD2, BRD3, BRD4, and BRDT) bind acetylated histones and serve as a scaffold for the recruitment of macromolecular complexes to modify chromatin accessibility and transcriptional activity. The role of BET proteins in cocaine-induced plasticity, however, remains elusive. Here, we used behavioral, pharmacological, and molecular techniques to examine the involvement of BET bromodomains in cocaine reward. Of the BET proteins, BRD4, but not BRD2 or BRD3, was significantly elevated in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) of mice and rats following repeated cocaine injections and selfadministration. Systemic and intra-accumbal inhibition of BRD4 with the BET inhibitor, JQ1, attenuated the rewarding effects of cocaine in a conditioned place preference procedure but did not affect conditioned place aversion, nor did JQ1 alone induce conditioned aversion or preference. Investigating the underlying mechanisms, we found that repeated cocaine injections enhanced the binding of BRD4, but not BRD3, to the promoter region of Bdnf in the NAc, whereas systemic injection of JQ1 attenuated cocaine-induced expression of Bdnf in the NAc. JQ1 and siRNA-mediated knockdown of BRD4 in vitro also reduced expression of Bdnf. These findings indicate that disrupting the interaction between BET proteins and their acetylated lysine substrates may provide a new therapeutic avenue for the treatment of drug addiction.
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