Prefrontal cerebral cortical areas display decreased expression of several transcription factor/immediate-early genes, including c-fos, during amphetamine withdrawal. Antisense strategies can help to test possible roles for this prefrontal c-fos down-regulation in the behavioural correlates of amphetamine withdrawal. Medial prefrontal cortical injections delivering 1.7 nmoles of anti c-fos oligonucleotides revealed an approximately 3 h half- life for phosphothioate and a 15 min half-life for phosphodiester oligonucleotides. Antisense phosphothioates complementary to the c-fos translational start site reduced levels of c-Fos protein, while exerting modest and variable effects on c-fos messenger RNA levels. Neither missense phosphorothioate nor antisense phosphodiester oligonucleotides significantly reduced levels of either c-fos messenger RNA or protein. Animals injected with anti c-fos phosphothioate oligonucleotides into the medial prefrontal cortex displayed marked reductions in linear locomotor activity and repetitive movements measured in a novel environment, effects not seen when missense oligonucleotides were used or when animals were accustomed to the activity monitor prior to antisense oligonucleotide injection. Behavioural changes produced by prefrontal cortical injections of c-fos antisense oligonucleotides closely mimic alterations recorded during amphetamine withdrawal. Prefrontal c-fos could thus conceivably play roles in the neurobiological underpinnings of psychostimulant withdrawal and of responses to stressors such as exposure to novel environments.
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