Current Perspectives on Selective Dopamine D3 Receptor Antagonists/Partial Agonists as Pharmacotherapeutics for Opioid and Psychostimulant Use Disorders

Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2023:60:157-201. doi: 10.1007/7854_2022_347.


Over three decades of evidence indicate that dopamine (DA) D3 receptors (D3R) are involved in the control of drug-seeking behavior and may play an important role in the pathophysiology of substance use disorders (SUD). The expectation that a selective D3R antagonist/partial agonist would be efficacious for the treatment of SUD is based on the following key observations. First, D3R are distributed in strategic areas belonging to the mesolimbic DA system such as the ventral striatum, midbrain, and ventral pallidum, which have been associated with behaviors controlled by the presentation of drug-associated cues. Second, repeated exposure to drugs of abuse produces neuroadaptations in the D3R system. Third, the synthesis and characterization of highly potent and selective D3R antagonists/partial agonists have further strengthened the role of the D3R in SUD. Based on extensive preclinical and preliminary clinical evidence, the D3R shows promise as a target for the development of pharmacotherapies for SUD as reflected by their potential to (1) regulate the motivation to self-administer drugs and (2) disrupt the responsiveness to drug-associated stimuli that play a key role in reinstatement of drug-seeking behavior triggered by re-exposure to the drug itself, drug-associated environmental cues, or stress. The availability of PET ligands to assess clinically relevant receptor occupancy by selective D3R antagonists/partial agonists, the definition of reliable dosing, and the prospect of using human laboratory models may further guide the design of clinical proof of concept studies. Pivotal clinical trials for more rapid progression of this target toward regulatory approval are urgently required. Finally, the discovery that highly selective D3R antagonists, such as R-VK4-116 and R-VK4-40, do not adversely affect peripheral biometrics or cardiovascular effects alone or in the presence of oxycodone or cocaine suggests that this class of drugs has great potential in safely treating psychostimulant and/or opioid use disorders.

Keywords: D3 receptor antagonist; D3 receptor partial agonist; Dopamine; Opioids; Psychostimulants; Substance use disorders.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants* / pharmacology
  • Dopamine
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Dopamine D3 / agonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine D3 / therapeutic use
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / drug therapy


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Dopamine
  • Receptors, Dopamine D3
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants