Drug-Evoked Synaptic Plasticity of Excitatory Transmission in the Ventral Tegmental Area

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2021 Apr 1;11(4):a039701. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a039701.


Cocaine leads to a strong euphoria, which is at the origin of its recreational use. Past the acute effects, the drug leaves traces in the brain that persist long after it has been cleared from the body. These traces eventually shape behavior such that drug use may become compulsive, and addiction develops. Here, we discuss cocaine-evoked synaptic plasticity of glutamatergic transmission onto dopamine (DA) neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) as one of the earliest traces after a first injection of cocaine. We review the literature that has examined the induction requirements, as well as the expression mechanism of this form of plasticity, and ask the question about its functional significance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cocaine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / drug effects*


  • Cocaine