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J Neurosci. 2001 Dec 1;21(23):RC184.

Stimulation of endorphin neurotransmission in the nucleus accumbens by ethanol, cocaine, and amphetamine.

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Department of Neurology, University of California at San Francisco, Emeryville, California 94608, USA.


Numerous studies have demonstrated that drugs of abuse activate the mesolimbic dopamine reward pathway, and it is widely held that this activation contributes to the motivational and positive reinforcing properties of these substances. However, there is evidence that endogenous opioid systems within this brain reward circuit also play a role in drug reinforcement and drug-seeking behavior. Using microdialysis in freely moving rats, we sought to determine whether various drugs of abuse (i.e., ethanol, cocaine, d-amphetamine, and nicotine) would increase neurotransmission of endogenous opioid peptides (i.e., endorphins) in the nucleus accumbens. Drugs were administered intraperitoneally twice at 3 h intervals, and the endorphin content of microdialysates was analyzed by a solid-phase radioimmunoassay. Acute administration of ethanol, cocaine, and d-amphetamine transiently elevated extracellular levels of endorphins in the nucleus accumbens, whereas nicotine and saline were without effect. We hypothesize that this drug-induced release of endorphins may contribute to the positive reinforcing and motivating properties of ethanol and psychostimulants.

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