D1 dopamine receptor: A putative neurochemical and behavioral link to cocaine action


  • Michele Hummel,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Pharmacology, Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    • Department of Pharmacology, Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19140.
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  • Ellen M. Unterwald

    1. Department of Pharmacology, Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    2. Laboratory of the Biology of Addictive Diseases, The Rockefeller University, New York, New York
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Cocaine is one of the most abused psychostimulants known to man and as such, researchers have been steadfast in their attempts to understand the neurobiological mechanisms responsible for its abuse. Cocaine undoubtedly wreaks havoc on a number of mammalian neuronal neurotransmitter systems, and it is maintained that this dysregulatory effect supports cocaine abuse. Cocaine's mechanism of action has been well described. Cocaine binds differentially to the dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine transport proteins and directly prevents the re-uptake of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine into pre-synaptic neurons (Heikkila et al., 1975, Biochem Pharmacol 24(8):847–852; Reith et al., 1986, Biochem Pharmacol 35(7):1123–1129; Ritz et al., 1987, Science 237:1219–1223). Inhibition of re-uptake subsequently elevates the synaptic concentrations of each of these neurotransmitters. In addition to this direct effect, cocaine also produces a number of indirect actions, which alter other neuromodulatory systems (i.e., opioidergic, glutamatergic, and GABAergic systems). Many of these effects are just beginning to be elucidated, but nonetheless contribute to this agent's diverse pharmacological profile. Interestingly, it is the indirect actions of this mellifluous molecule, which mediate most of its sought and unsought effects. The intricacy with which cocaine produces neuronal alterations beyond its direct effects on neurotransmitter re-uptake appear to be most relevant to cocaine abuse, and hence the phenomenon of addiction. In light of cocaine's multifarious effects on numerous neuronal systems, its effect on dopaminergic neurotransmission has attracted the most attention, particularly because of the implicated role of dopamine in brain reward. Pharmacologically, the psychostimulant effects of cocaine appear to be mediated by its ability to enhance dopaminergic activity within the mesocorticolimbic circuit (Roberts et al., 1977, Pharmacol Biochem Behav 6(6):615–620). Additionally, it is the intensity with which cocaine produces alterations in dopaminergic circuitry that have enabled this drug to prevail as one of the most addictive substances known to man. This review will summarize findings relevant to cocaine-induced alterations in dopamine-mediated signal transduction. Specifically, it will concentrate on the D1 dopamine receptor and intracellular signaling mediated by this receptor subtype. It will describe cocaine-induced cellular and behavioral alterations relevant to this pathway and how these changes potentially effect gene transcription and protein expression. This article too will review a common behavioral manifestation associated with repeated cocaine exposure, sensitization, and why the D1 dopamine receptor and its associated signaling pathway have been implicated in this phenomenon. Lastly, this article will discuss how targeting the D1 dopamine receptor and its signaling pathway may offer some insight into understanding cocaine addiction, a somewhat elusive brain disease. J. Cell. Physiol. 191: 17–27, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.