Modification of cocaine self-administration by buspirone (buspar®): potential involvement of D3 and D4 dopamine receptors

Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2013 Mar;16(2):445-58. doi: 10.1017/S1461145712000661. Epub 2012 Jul 25.


Converging lines of evidence indicate that elevations in synaptic dopamine levels play a pivotal role in the reinforcing effects of cocaine, which are associated with its abuse liability. This evidence has led to the exploration of dopamine receptor blockers as pharmacotherapy for cocaine addiction. While neither D1 nor D2 receptor antagonists have proven effective, medications acting at two other potential targets, D3 and D4 receptors, have yet to be explored for this indication in the clinic. Buspirone, a 5-HT1A partial agonist approved for the treatment of anxiety, has been reported to also bind with high affinity to D3 and D4 receptors. In view of this biochemical profile, the present research was conducted to examine both the functional effects of buspirone on these receptors and, in non-human primates, its ability to modify the reinforcing effects of i.v. cocaine in a behaviourally selective manner. Radioligand binding studies confirmed that buspirone binds with high affinity to recombinant human D3 and D4 receptors (∼98 and ∼29 nm respectively). Live cell functional assays also revealed that buspirone, and its metabolites, function as antagonists at both D3 and D4 receptors. In behavioural studies, doses of buspirone that had inconsistent effects on food-maintained responding (0.1 or 0.3 mg/kg i.m.) produced a marked downward shift in the dose-effect function for cocaine-maintained behaviour, reflecting substantial decreases in self-administration of one or more unit doses of i.v. cocaine in each subject. These results support the further evaluation of buspirone as a candidate medication for the management of cocaine addiction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Buspirone / pharmacology*
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage*
  • Cocaine / pharmacology
  • Dopamine / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Agents / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Interactions
  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels / genetics
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Protein Binding / drug effects
  • Receptors, Dopamine D3 / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine D3 / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4 / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4 / metabolism*
  • Self Administration
  • Serotonin / pharmacology
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Tritium / pharmacokinetics


  • Dopamine Agents
  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels
  • Receptors, Dopamine D3
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists
  • Tritium
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4
  • Serotonin
  • Cocaine
  • Buspirone
  • Dopamine