Dopamine and addiction: what have we learned from 40 years of research

J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2019 Apr;126(4):481-516. doi: 10.1007/s00702-018-1957-2. Epub 2018 Dec 19.


Among the neurotransmitters involved in addiction, dopamine (DA) is clearly the best known. The critical role of DA in addiction is supported by converging evidence that has been accumulated in the last 40 years. In the present review, first we describe the dopaminergic system in terms of connectivity, functioning and involvement in reward processes. Second, we describe the functional, structural, and molecular changes induced by drugs within the DA system in terms of neuronal activity, synaptic plasticity and transcriptional and molecular adaptations. Third, we describe how genetic mouse models have helped characterizing the role of DA in addiction. Fourth, we describe the involvement of the DA system in the vulnerability to addiction and the interesting case of addiction DA replacement therapy in Parkinson's disease. Finally, we describe how the DA system has been targeted to treat patients suffering from addiction and the result obtained in clinical settings and we discuss how these different lines of evidence have been instrumental in shaping our understanding of the physiopathology of drug addiction.

Keywords: Neuroplasticity; Reward; Striatum; Substance abuse; Substantia nigra; Treatment; VTA.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / metabolism
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Substance-Related Disorders / metabolism*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*


  • Dopamine