Synaptic plasticity in drug reward circuitry

Curr Mol Med. 2002 Nov;2(7):667-76. doi: 10.2174/1566524023361961.


Drug addiction is a major public health issue worldwide. The persistence of drug craving coupled with the known recruitment of learning and memory centers in the brain has led investigators to hypothesize that the alterations in glutamatergic synaptic efficacy brought on by synaptic plasticity may play key roles in the addiction process. Here we review the present literature, examining the properties of synaptic plasticity within drug reward circuitry, and the effects that drugs of abuse have on these forms of plasticity. Interestingly, multiple forms of synaptic plasticity can be induced at glutamatergic synapses within the dorsal striatum, its ventral extension the nucleus accumbens, and the ventral tegmental area, and at least some of these forms of plasticity are regulated by behaviorally meaningful administration of cocaine and/or amphetamine. Thus, the present data suggest that regulation of synaptic plasticity in reward circuits is a tractable candidate mechanism underlying aspects of addiction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Corpus Striatum / drug effects
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / pharmacology
  • Learning / physiology
  • Long-Term Potentiation / drug effects
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology
  • Long-Term Synaptic Depression / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate / physiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Synapses / drug effects*


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate