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Front Psychiatry. 2014 Jun 30;5:73. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00073. eCollection 2014.

The role of cannabinoid transmission in emotional memory formation: implications for addiction and schizophrenia.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario , London, ON , Canada.
  • 2Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario , London, ON , Canada ; Department of Psychiatry, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario , London, ON , Canada ; Department of Psychology, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario , London, ON , Canada.

Abstract

Emerging evidence from both basic and clinical research demonstrates an important role for endocannabinoid (ECB) signaling in the processing of emotionally salient information, learning, and memory. Cannabinoid transmission within neural circuits involved in emotional processing has been shown to modulate the acquisition, recall, and extinction of emotionally salient memories and importantly, can strongly modulate the emotional salience of incoming sensory information. Two neural regions in particular, the medial prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA), play important roles in emotional regulation and contain high levels of cannabinoid receptors. Furthermore, both regions show profound abnormalities in neuropsychiatric disorders such as addiction and schizophrenia. Considerable evidence has demonstrated that cannabinoid transmission functionally interacts with dopamine (DA), a neurotransmitter system that is of exceptional importance for both addictive behaviors and the neuropsychopathology of disorders like schizophrenia. Research in our laboratory has focused on how cannabinoid transmission both within and extrinsic to the mesolimbic DA system, including the BLA → mPFC circuitry, can modulate both rewarding and aversive emotional information. In this review, we will summarize clinical and basic neuroscience research demonstrating the importance of cannabinoid signaling within this neural circuitry. In particular, evidence will be reviewed emphasizing the importance of cannabinoid signaling within the BLA → mPFC circuitry in the context of emotional salience processing, memory formation and memory-related plasticity. We propose that aberrant states of hyper or hypoactive ECB signaling within the amygdala-prefrontal cortical circuit may lead to dysregulation of mesocorticolimbic DA transmission controlling the processing of emotionally salient information. These disturbances may in turn lead to emotional processing, learning, and memory abnormalities related to various neuropsychiatric disorders, including addiction and schizophrenia-related psychoses.

KEYWORDS:

addiction; amygdala; cannabinoids; dopamine; emotion; frontal cortex; opiates; schizophrenia

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