In silico identification and in vivo validation of miR-495 as a novel regulator of motivation for cocaine that targets multiple addiction-related networks in the nucleus accumbens
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important post-transcriptional regulators of gene expression and are implicated in the etiology of several neuropsychiatric disorders, including substance use disorders (SUDs). Using in silico genome-wide sequence analyses, we identified miR-495 as a miRNA whose predicted targets are significantly enriched in the Knowledgebase for Addiction Related Genes (ARG) database (KARG; http://karg.cbi.pku.edu.cn). This small non-coding RNA is also highly expressed within the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a pivotal brain region underlying reward and motivation. Using luciferase reporter assays, we found that miR-495 directly targeted the 3′UTRs of Bdnf, Camk2a and Arc. Furthermore, we measured miR-495 expression in response to acute cocaine in mice and found that it is downregulated rapidly and selectively in the NAc, along with concomitant increases in ARG expression. Lentiviral-mediated miR-495 overexpression in the NAc shell (NAcsh) not only reversed these cocaine-induced effects but also downregulated multiple ARG mRNAs in specific SUD-related biological pathways, including those that regulate synaptic plasticity. miR-495 expression was also downregulated in the NAcsh of rats following cocaine self-administration. Most importantly, we found that NAcsh miR-495 overexpression suppressed the motivation to self-administer and seek cocaine across progressive ratio, extinction and reinstatement testing, but had no effect on food reinforcement, suggesting that miR-495 selectively affects addiction-related behaviors. Overall, our in silico search for post-transcriptional regulators identified miR-495 as a novel regulator of multiple ARGs that have a role in modulating motivation for cocaine.