Given historical focus on the roles for cholecystokinin (CCK) as a peripheral hormone controlling gastrointestinal processes and a brainstem peptide regulating food intake, the study of CCK as a limbic neuromodulator coordinating reward-seeking and emotional behavior remains underappreciated. Furthermore, localization of CCK to specialized interneurons throughout the hippocampus and cortex relegated CCK to being examined primarily as a static cell type marker rather than a dynamic functional neuromodulator. Yet, over three decades of literature have been generated by efforts to delineate the central mechanisms of addiction-related behaviors mediated by the CCK system across the striatum, amygdala, hypothalamus, and midbrain. Here, we cover fundamental findings that implicate CCK neuron activity and CCK receptor signaling in modulating drug intake and drug-seeking (focusing on psychostimulants, opioids, and alcohol). In doing so, we highlight the few studies that indicate sex differences in CCK expression and corresponding drug effects, emphasizing the importance of examining hormonal influences and sex as a biological variable in translating basic science discoveries to effective treatments for substance use disorders in human patients. Finally, we point toward understudied subcortical sources of endogenous CCK and describe how continued neurotechnology advancements can be leveraged to modernize understanding of the neural circuit mechanisms underlying CCK release and signaling in addiction-relevant behaviors.
Keywords: Addiction; Alcohol; Cholecystokinin; Circuit; Neuropeptide; Reward.