Synaptic mechanisms underlying persistent cocaine craving

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2016 Jun;17(6):351-65. doi: 10.1038/nrn.2016.39. Epub 2016 May 6.


Although it is challenging for individuals with cocaine addiction to achieve abstinence, the greatest difficulty is avoiding relapse to drug taking, which is often triggered by cues associated with prior cocaine use. This vulnerability to relapse persists for long periods (months to years) after abstinence is achieved. Here, I discuss rodent studies of cue-induced cocaine craving during abstinence, with a focus on neuronal plasticity in the reward circuitry that maintains high levels of craving. Such work has the potential to identify new therapeutic targets and to further our understanding of experience-dependent plasticity in the adult brain under normal circumstances and in the context of addiction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / metabolism
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / metabolism*
  • Craving / drug effects
  • Craving / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / drug effects
  • Nerve Net / metabolism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Reward
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / metabolism*


  • Cocaine