Restructuring of basal ganglia circuitry and associated behaviors triggered by low striatal D2 receptor expression: implications for substance use disorders

Genes Brain Behav. 2017 Jan;16(1):56-70. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12361.


Dopamine D2 receptors (D2Rs) consistently emerge as a critical substrate for the etiology of some major psychiatric disorders. Indeed, a central theory of substance use disorders (SUDs) postulates that a reduction in D2R levels in the striatum is a determining factor that confers vulnerability to abuse substances. A large number of clinical and preclinical studies strongly support this link between SUDs and D2Rs; however, identifying the mechanism by which low D2Rs facilitate SUDs has been hindered by the complexity of circuit connectivity, the heterogeneity of D2R expression and the multifaceted constellation of phenotypes observed in SUD patient. Animal models are well-suited for understanding the mechanisms because they allow access to the circuitry and the genetic tools that enable a dissection of the D2R heterogeneity. This review discusses recent findings on the functional role of D2Rs and highlights the distinctive contributions of D2Rs expressed on specific neuronal subpopulations to the behavioral responses to stimulant drugs. A circuit-wide restructuring of local and long-range inhibitory connectivity within the basal ganglia is observed in response to manipulation of striatal D2R levels and is accompanied by multiple alterations in dopamine-dependent behaviors. Collectively, these new findings provide compelling evidence for a critical role of striatal D2Rs in shaping basal ganglia connectivity; even among neurons that do not express D2Rs. These findings from animal models have deep clinical implications for SUD patients with low levels D2R availability where a similar restructuring of basal ganglia circuitry is expected to take place.

Keywords: Addiction; D2 receptors; G-protein coupled receptors; basal ganglia; cocaine; dopamine; medium spiny neurons; striatum; substance use disorders; synaptic transmission.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / metabolism
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / metabolism*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / metabolism*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology


  • Receptors, Dopamine D2