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.
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