Localization of drug reward mechanisms by intracranial injections

Synapse. 1992 Mar;10(3):247-63. doi: 10.1002/syn.890100307.


Intracranial drug injections are useful in localizing brain areas where drugs of abuse initiate their habit-forming actions. However, serious methodological problems accompany such studies. Pharmacological controls are necessary to assess non-receptor-mediated local actions of the drug, anatomical controls are necessary to rule out drug efflux to distal sites of action, and behavioral controls are necessary to separate rewarding from general activating effects of drugs. Five brain sites have been advanced as sites of rewarding opiate actions: the ventral tegmental area (VTA), nucleus accumbens septi (NAS), lateral hypothalamus, periaqueductal gray, and hippocampus. Current evidence appears to confirm two of these--VTA and NAS; evidence is currently incomplete in the case of the hippocampus and is conflicting in the case of the lateral hypothalamus and periaqueductal gray. Two sites have been advanced as sites of rewarding psychomotor stimulant actions: NAS and the frontal cortex; each site seems implicated, but puzzling differences between amphetamine and cocaine findings remain to be resolved. Each of the clearly implicated sites is local to dopamine cell bodies or dopamine terminals that have been implicated in the rewarding effects of brain stimulation, food, and sex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Injections / methods
  • Narcotics / administration & dosage
  • Narcotics / pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reward*
  • Self Stimulation
  • Substance-Related Disorders*


  • Narcotics
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations