Neurotransmitter systems of the medial prefrontal cortex: potential role in sensitization to psychostimulants

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2003 Mar;41(2-3):203-28. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(02)00233-3.


The mesocorticolimbic dopamine system, which arises in the ventral tegmental area and innervates the nucleus accumbens, among numerous other regions, has been implicated in processes associated with drug addiction, including behavioral sensitization. Behavioral sensitization is the enhanced motor-stimulant response that occurs with repeated exposure to psychostimulants. The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), defined as the cortical region that has a reciprocal innervation with the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus, is also a terminal region of the mesocorticolimbic dopamine system. The mPFC contains pyramidal glutamatergic neurons that serve as the primary output of this region. These pyramidal neurons are modulated by numerous neurotransmitter systems, including gamma-aminobutyric acidergic interneurons and dopaminergic, noradrenergic, serotonergic, glutamatergic, cholinergic and peptidergic afferents. Changes in interactions between these various neurotransmitter systems in the mPFC may lead to alterations in behavioral responses. For example, recent studies have demonstrated a role for decreased mPFC dopaminergic transmission in the development of psychostimulant-induced behavioral sensitization. The present review will discuss the anatomical organization of the mPFC including descriptions of innervation patterns and receptor localization of the various neurotransmitter systems of this region. Data supporting or suggesting a role for each of these mPFC transmitter systems in the development of behavioral sensitization to cocaine and amphetamine will be presented. Finally a model of the mPFC that may be useful in directing future research efforts on the cortical mechanisms involved in the development of sensitization will be proposed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamine-Related Disorders / metabolism*
  • Amphetamine-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / metabolism*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Drug Tolerance / physiology
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / cytology
  • Limbic System / drug effects
  • Limbic System / metabolism*
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / metabolism*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Neurotransmitter Agents