Neural mechanisms of reproduction in females as a predisposing factor for drug addiction

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2010 Apr;31(2):217-31. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2010.02.003. Epub 2010 Feb 19.


There is an increasing awareness that adolescent females differ from males in their response to drugs of abuse and consequently in their vulnerability to addiction. One possible component of this vulnerability to drug addiction is the neurobiological impact that reproductive physiology and behaviors have on the mesolimbic dopamine system, a key neural pathway mediating drug addiction. In this review, we examine animal models that address the impact of ovarian cyclicity, sexual affiliation, sexual behavior, and maternal care on the long-term plasticity of the mesolimbic dopamine system. The thesis is that this plasticity in synaptic neurotransmission stemming from an individual's normal life history contributes to the pathological impact of drugs of abuse on the neurobiology of this system. Hormones released during reproductive cycles have only transient effects on these dopamine systems, whereas reproductive behaviors produce a persistent sensitization of dopamine release and post-synaptic neuronal responsiveness. Puberty itself may not represent a neurobiological risk factor for drug abuse, but attendant behavioral experiences may have a negative impact on females engaging in drug use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Estradiol / physiology
  • Estrous Cycle / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology
  • Menstrual Cycle / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Progesterone / physiology
  • Rats
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*


  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol
  • Dopamine