The role of mesoaccumbens dopamine in nicotine dependence

Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2015;24:55-98. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-13482-6_3.


There is abundant evidence that the dopamine (DA) neurons that project to the nucleus accumbens play a central role in neurobiological mechanisms underpinning drug dependence. This chapter considers the ways in which these projections facilitate the addiction to nicotine and tobacco. It focuses on the complimentary roles of the two principal subdivisions of the nucleus accumbens, the accumbal core and shell, in the acquisition and maintenance of nicotine-seeking behavior. The ways in which tonic and phasic firing of the neurons contributes to the ways in which the accumbens mediate the behavioral responses to nicotine are also considered. Experimental studies suggest that nicotine has relatively weak addictive properties which are insufficient to explain the powerful addictive properties of tobacco smoke. This chapter discusses hypotheses that seek to explain this conundrum. They implicate both discrete sensory stimuli closely paired with the delivery of tobacco smoke and contextual stimuli habitually associated with the delivery of the drug. The mechanisms by which each type of stimulus influence tobacco dependence are hypothesized to depend upon the increased DA release and overflow, respectively, in the two subdivisions of the accumbens. It is suggested that a majority of pharmacotherapies for tobacco dependence are not more successful because they fail to address this important aspect of the dependence.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology*


  • Nicotine
  • Dopamine