Dopamine and drug addiction: the nucleus accumbens shell connection

Neuropharmacology. 2004;47 Suppl 1:227-41. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2004.06.032.


Microdialysis studies in animals have shown that addictive drugs preferentially increase extracellular dopamine (DA) in the n. accumbens (NAc). Brain imaging studies, while extending these finding to humans, have shown a correlation between psychostimulant-induced increase of extracellular DA in the striatum and self-reported measures of liking and 'high' (euphoria). Although a correlate of drug reward independent from associative learning and performance is difficult to obtain in animals, conditioned taste avoidance (CTA) might meet these requirements. Addictive drugs induce CTA to saccharin most likely as a result of anticipatory contrast of saccharin over drug reward. Consistently with a role of DA in drug reward, D2 or combined D1/D2 receptor blockade abolishes cocaine, amphetamine and nicotine CTA. Intracranial self-administration studies with mixtures of D1 and D2 receptor agonists point to the NAc shell as the critical site of DA reward. NAc shell DA acting on D1 receptors is also involved in Pavlovian learning through pre-trial and post-trial consolidation mechanisms and in the utilization of spatial short-term memory for goal-directed behavior. Stimulation of NAc shell DA transmission by addictive drugs is shared by a natural reward like food but lacks its adaptive properties (habituation and inhibition by predictive stimuli). These peculiarities of drug-induced stimulation of DA transmission in the NAc shell result in striking differences in the impact of drug-conditioned stimuli on DA transmission. It is speculated that drug addiction results from the impact exerted on behavior by the abnormal DA stimulant properties acquired by drug-conditioned stimuli as a result of their association with addictive drugs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • Extracellular Space / physiology
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Substance-Related Disorders / metabolism
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Dopamine