||Astrocytes have been proved to play a critical role in neuromodulation, neuroprotection, pH maintenance, axon guidance control during development, homeostasis preservation and blood brain barrier maintenance in the CNS (Kimmelberg and Norenberg, 1989). Quantitative changes in the expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), a cytoskeletal intermediate filament protein exclusively expressed in astrocytes (Bignami et al., 1972), have been observed after administration of alcohol (Franke, 1995), morphine (Beitner-Johnson et al., 1993), amphetamine and its derivates (Aguirre et al., 1999), cannabinoids (Suarez et al., 2000), nicotine (Janson and Moller, 1993), caffeine (Marret et al., 1993) and prenatal exposure to cocaine (Clarke et al., 1996; Nassogne et al., 1998). However, the general astrocytic response to drugs of abuse is still far from being defined. In the present study we examined the in vivo astroglial response to cocaine in mouse dentate gyrus, the hippocampus being a common target of neurotoxic agents (Walsh and Emerich, 1988) which has a prominent effect on learning and memory processes (Eichenbaum. et al., 1992). Quantitative changes in immunoreactivity of GFAP were investigated 24 h after acute and repeated daily administraion of intraperitoneal cocaine (20 mg/kg). Drug-induced morphological alterations and spatial distribution of astrocytes were evaluated by means of confocal microscope. The results show that, compared to control animals, GFAP expression is two-fold enhanced after a single cocaine injection, still significantly higher after seven consecutive daily administrations, but not statistically different after prolonged (14 days) drug treatment. Moreover, morphological and morphometric analyses reveal significant modifications in astrocytic numbers, cell size and shape complexity. These data demonstrate that in mouse dentate gyrus, cocaine exposure differently affects the expression of GFAP and induces strong changes in astrocytes proliferation rate and cell morphology. Taken together, our findings provide the first in vivo quantitative and qualitative evaluation of astrocytic response to several regimens of cocaine in adult animals brain. (C) 2002 IBRO. Published by Else-vier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.