Drug abuse, brain calcification and glutamate-induced neurodegeneration

Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2009 Jan;2(1):99-112. doi: 10.2174/1874473710902010099.


Positive and negative reinforcing systems are part of the mechanism of drug dependence. Drugs with abuse potential may change the manner of response to negative emotional stimuli, activate positive emotional reactions and possess primary reinforcing properties. Catecholaminergic and peptidergic processes are of importance in these mechanisms. Current research needs to understand the types of adaptations that underlie the particularly long-lived aspects of addiction. Presently, glutamate is candidate to play a role in the enduring effects of drugs of abuse. For example, it participates in the chronic pathological changes of corticostriatal terminals produced by methamphetamine. At the synaptic level, a link between over-activation of glutamate receptors, [C(a2+)](i) increase and neuronal damage has been clearly established leading to neurodegeneration. Thus, neurodegeneration can start after an acute over-stimulation whose immediate effects depend on a diversity of calcium-activated mechanisms. If sufficient, the initial insult results in calcification and activation of a chronic on-going process with a progressive loss of neurons. At present, long-term effects of drug dependence underlie an excitotoxicity process linked to a polysynaptic pathway that dynamically regulates synaptic glutamate. Retaliatory mechanisms include energy capability of the neurons, inhibitory systems and cytoplasmic calcium precipitation as part of the neuron-glia interactions. This paper presents an integrated view of these molecular and cellular mechanisms to help understand their relationship and interdependence in a chronic pathological process that suggest new targets for therapeutic intervention.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Calcinosis / chemically induced
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Nerve Degeneration / chemically induced*
  • Nerve Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Glutamate / drug effects
  • Receptors, Glutamate / metabolism
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*


  • Receptors, Glutamate
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Calcium