Long-term drug-induced alterations in neurotransmission within the nucleus accumbens (NAc) shell and core may underlie relapse to drug-seeking behavior and drug-taking upon re-exposure to drugs and drug-associated stimuli (cues) during abstinence. Using an open screening strategy, we recently identified 25 gene transcripts, encoding for proteins involved in neuronal functioning and structure that are down-regulated in rat NAc shell after contingent (active), but not after non-contingent (passive), heroin administration. Studying the expression of the same transcripts in the NAc core by means of quantitative PCR, we now demonstrate that most of these transcripts are up-regulated in that NAc subregion long (3 weeks) after heroin self-administration in rats. A similar up-regulation in gene expression was also apparent in the NAc core of animals with a history of non-contingent heroin administration (yoked controls). These data indicate that heroin self-administration differentially regulates genes in the NAc core as compared with the shell. Moreover, whereas cognitive processes involved in active drug self-administration (e.g., instrumental learning) seems to direct gene expression in the NAc shell, neuroplasticity in the NAc core may be due to the pharmacological effects of heroin (including Pavlovian conditioning), as expressed in rats upon contingent as well as non-contingent administration of heroin.