The dynorphin/kappa opioid receptor (KOR) system is implicated in the "dark side" of addiction, in which stress exacerbates maladaptive responses to drug and alcohol exposure. For example, acute stress and acute ethanol exposure result in an elevation in dynorphin, the KOR endogenous ligand. Activation of KORs results in modulation of several neurotransmitters; however, this chapter will focus on its regulatory effects on dopamine in mesolimbic areas. Specifically, KOR activation has an inhibitory effect on dopamine release, thereby influencing reward processing. Repeated stimulation of KORs, for example, via chronic drug and/or stress exposure, results in increased function of the dynorphin/KOR system. This augmentation in KOR function shifts the homeostatic balance in favor of an overall reduction in dopamine signaling via either by reducing dopamine release or by increasing dopamine transporter function. This chapter examines the effects of chronic ethanol exposure on KOR function and the downstream effects on dopamine transmission. Additionally, the impact of chronic cocaine exposure and its effects on KOR function will be explored. Further, KORs may also be involved in driving excessive consumption of food, contributing to the risk of developing obesity. While some studies have shown that KOR agonists reduce drug intake, other studies have shown that antagonists reduce addiction-like behaviors, demonstrating therapeutic potential. For example, KOR inhibition reduces ethanol intake in dependent animals, motivation to self-administer cocaine in chronic stress-exposed animals, and food consumption in obese animals. This chapter will delve into the mechanisms by which modulation of the dynorphin/KOR system may be therapeutic.
Keywords: Addiction; Cocaine; Dopamine; Dynorphin; Ethanol; Kappa opioid receptor; Nucleus accumbens; Obesity; Stress.
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