Synaptic plasticity and drug addiction

Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2005 Feb;5(1):20-5. doi: 10.1016/j.coph.2004.08.011.


Recent studies have suggested that the development of addictive behaviours shares common features with traditional learning models. Synaptic plasticity, a possible substrate for learning, has been demonstrated in neural reward circuits and might contribute to the learning of addictive behaviours. Changes in the strength of synaptic connections have been investigated in dopaminergic cells of the ventral tegmental area in response to several addictive drugs. Rapid and persistent forms of synaptic plasticity (specifically, long-lasting synaptic potentiation) have been demonstrated to accompany some of the behavioural effects of addictive drugs. We hypothesize that drug-induced synaptic plasticity might play a role in reward-related learning and addiction by modifying the fine tuning of dopaminergic cell firing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / pharmacology
  • Long-Term Potentiation / drug effects
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology*
  • Long-Term Synaptic Depression / drug effects
  • Neurobiology / trends
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate / drug effects
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate / physiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Receptors, Metabotropic Glutamate