Drug-evoked synaptic plasticity in addiction: from molecular changes to circuit remodeling

Neuron. 2011 Feb 24;69(4):650-63. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.01.017.


Addictive drugs have in common that they target the mesocorticolimbic dopamine (DA) system. This system originates in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and projects mainly to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and prefrontal cortex (PFC). Here, we review the effects that such drugs leave on glutamatergic and GABAergic synaptic transmission in these three brain areas. We refer to these changes as drug-evoked synaptic plasticity, which outlasts the presence of the drug in the brain and contributes to the reorganization of neural circuits. While in most cases these early changes are not sufficient to induce the disease, with repetitive drug exposure, they may add up and contribute to addictive behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / pathology
  • Limbic System / physiopathology
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Nerve Net / drug effects
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / pathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / physiology*