Get access

Synaptic plasticity in the mesolimbic system

Therapeutic implications for substance abuse

Authors

  • Billy T. Chen,

    1. Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
    2. Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
    3. Wheeler Center for the Neurobiology of Addiction, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • F. Woodward Hopf,

    1. Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
    2. Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
    3. Wheeler Center for the Neurobiology of Addiction, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Antonello Bonci

    1. Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
    2. Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
    3. Wheeler Center for the Neurobiology of Addiction, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
    4. Program in Neuroscience, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
    Search for more papers by this author

Address for correspondence: Antonello Bonci, M.D., Department of Neurology, Ernest Gallo Clinic & Research Center, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Voice: 510 985-3890; fax: 510 985-3101. Antonello.bonci@ucsf.edu

Abstract

In an ever-changing environment, animals must learn new behavioral strategies for the successful procurement of food, sex, and other needs. Synaptic plasticity within the mesolimbic system, a key reward circuit, affords an animal the ability to adapt and perform essential goal-directed behaviors. Ironically, drugs of abuse can also induce synaptic changes within the mesolimbic system, and such changes are hypothesized to promote deleterious drug-seeking behaviors in lieu of healthy, adaptive behaviors. In this review, we will discuss drug-induced neuroadaptations in excitatory transmission in the ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbens, two critical regions of the mesolimbic system, and the possible role of dopamine receptors in the development of these neuroadaptations. In particular, we will focus our discussion on recent studies showing changes in AMPA receptor function as a common molecular target of addictive drugs, and the possible behavioral consequences of such neuroadaptations.

Ancillary