The Plasticity of Extinction: Contribution of the Prefrontal Cortex in Treating Addiction through Inhibitory Learning

Front Psychiatry. 2013 May 30:4:46. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00046. eCollection 2013.


Theories of drug addiction that incorporate various concepts from the fields of learning and memory have led to the idea that classical and operant conditioning principles underlie the compulsiveness of addictive behaviors. Relapse often results from exposure to drug-associated cues, and the ability to extinguish these conditioned behaviors through inhibitory learning could serve as a potential therapeutic approach for those who suffer from addiction. This review will examine the evidence that extinction learning alters neuronal plasticity in specific brain regions and pathways. In particular, subregions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and their projections to other brain regions have been shown to differentially modulate drug-seeking and extinction behavior. Additionally, there is a growing body of research demonstrating that manipulation of neuronal plasticity can alter extinction learning. Therefore, the ability to alter plasticity within areas of the PFC through pharmacological manipulation could facilitate the acquisition of extinction and provide a novel intervention to aid in the extinction of drug-related memories.

Keywords: addiction; extinction learning; infralimbic; prefrontal cortex; prelimbic.