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Drugs and addiction: an introduction to epigenetics


Jonathan Mill, Institute of Psychiatry, SGDP Research Centre, King's College London, De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK. E-mail:


Addiction is a debilitating psychiatric disorder, with a complex aetiology involving the interaction of inherited predispositions and environmental factors. Emerging evidence suggests that epigenetic alterations to the genome, including DNA methylation and histone modifications, are important mechanisms underlying addiction and the neurobiological response to addictive substances. In this review, we introduce the reader to epigenetic mechanisms and describe a potential role for dynamic epigenetic changes in mediating addictive behaviours via long-lasting changes in gene expression. We summarize recent findings from both molecular and behavioural experiments elucidating the role of epigenetic changes in mediating the addictive potential of various drugs of abuse, including cocaine, amphetamine and alcohol. The implications of these findings for molecular studies of addiction and the future development of novel therapeutic interventions are also discussed.