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Pharmacol Rev. 2002 Mar;54(1):1-42.

Neurobiology of relapse to heroin and cocaine seeking: a review.

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Behavioral Neuroscience Branch, Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, Maryland 21224, USA.


The objective of this article is to review data from studies that used a reinstatement model in rats to elucidate the neural mechanisms underlying relapse to heroin and cocaine seeking induced by exposure to the self-administered drug (drug priming), conditioned drug cues, and stressors. These factors were reported to contribute to relapse to drug use in humans following prolonged abstinence periods. In the reinstatement model, the ability of acute exposure to drug or nondrug stimuli to reinstate drug seeking is determined following training for drug self-administration and subsequent extinction of the drug-reinforced behavior. We will review studies in which pharmacological agents were injected systemically or intracranially to block (or mimic) reinstatement by drug priming, drug cues, and stressors. We also will review studies in which brain lesions, in vivo microdialysis and electrochemistry, and gene expression methods were used to map brain sites involved in relapse to drug seeking. Subsequently, we will discuss theoretical issues related to the processes underlying relapse to drugs and address methodological issues in studies on reinstatement of drug seeking. Finally, the implications of the findings from the studies reviewed for addiction theories and treatment will be discussed. The main conclusion of this review is that the neuronal mechanisms involved in relapse to heroin and cocaine seeking induced by drug priming, drug cues, and stressors are to a large degree dissociable. The data reviewed also suggest that the neuronal events mediating drug-induced reinstatement are to some degree dissociable from those mediating drug reinforcement.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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