Limbic-striatal memory systems and drug addiction

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2002 Nov;78(3):625-36. doi: 10.1006/nlme.2002.4103.


Drug addiction can be understood as a pathological subversion of normal brain learning and memory processes strengthened by the motivational impact of drug-associated stimuli, leading to the establishment of compulsive drug-seeking habits. Such habits evolve through a cascade of complex associative processes with Pavlovian and instrumental components that may depend on the integration and coordination of output from several somewhat independent neural systems of learning and memory, each contributing to behavioral performance. Data are reviewed that help to define the influences of conditioned Pavlovian stimuli on goal-directed behavior via sign-tracking, motivational arousal, and conditioned reinforcement. Such influences are mediated via defined corticolimbic-striatal systems converging on the ventral striatum and driving habit-based learning that may depend on the dorsal striatum. These systems include separate and overlapping influences from the amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate and medial prefrontal cortex on drug-seeking as well as drug-taking behavior, including the propensity to relapse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Conditioning, Psychological / drug effects
  • Corpus Striatum / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / physiopathology*
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Narcotics / adverse effects
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*


  • Narcotics