Molecular mechanisms of drug addiction

Neuropharmacology. 2004;47 Suppl 1:24-32. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2004.06.031.


Regulation of gene expression is one mechanism by which drugs of abuse can induce relatively long-lasting changes in the brain to cause a state of addiction. Here, we focus on two transcription factors, CREB (cAMP response element binding protein) and DeltaFosB, which contribute to drug-induced changes in gene expression. Both are activated in the nucleus accumbens, a major brain reward region, but mediate different aspects of the addicted state. CREB mediates a form of tolerance and dependence, which dampens an individual's sensitivity to subsequent drug exposure and contributes to a negative emotional state during early phases of withdrawal. In contrast, DeltaFosB mediates a state of relatively prolonged sensitization to drug exposure and may contribute to the increased drive and motivation for drug, which is a core symptom of addictive disorders. A major goal of current research is to identify the many target genes through which CREB and DeltaFosB mediate these behavioral states. In addition, future work needs to understand how CREB and DeltaFosB, acting in concert with numerous other drug-induced molecular changes in nucleus accumbens and many other brain regions, interact with one another to produce the complex behavioral phenotype that defines addiction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cyclic AMP Response Element-Binding Protein / metabolism
  • Cyclic AMP Response Element-Binding Protein / physiology
  • Humans
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / physiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / metabolism*


  • Cyclic AMP Response Element-Binding Protein
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos