A subtractive hybridization and differential screening procedure was used to detect up-regulation of cytochrome c oxidase (CO) subunits I, III, and IV mRNA in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) of rats chronically treated with cocaine. Northern blot analyses of mRNA isolated from individual rats confirmed that CO subunit I was up-regulated by chronic, but not acute, cocaine in two brain regions, the NAc (33%) and caudate-putamen (CP) (35%). CO activity, used as a measure of metabolic activity, was increased by 88% in the NAc, and decreased by 20% in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), the day after chronic treatment was terminated. CO enzyme activity was not regulated in the CP, or in other brain regions not involved in drug reward. CO activity in both the NAc and mPFC showed unique time-dependent patterns of regulation during the week after chronic cocaine treatment.