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Recent Dev Alcohol. 1992;10:201-33.

Neuropharmacology of cocaine and ethanol dependence.

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Department of Neuropharmacology, Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California 92037.


Drug addiction includes two important characteristics, chronic compulsive or uncontrollable drug use and a withdrawal syndrome when use of the drug is stopped. Animal models for the motivational components of drug dependence have been developed allowing a systematic exploration of the neurobiological mechanisms of drug dependence. The reinforcing actions of acute cocaine as measured by intravenous cocaine self-administration appear to be mediated by the presynaptic release of dopamine in the region of the nucleus accumbens and may preferentially involve the dopamine D-1 receptor subtype. The nucleus accumbens circuitry involved in the reinforcing actions of cocaine may include the ventral pallidum and may be modulated by serotonin. Chronic cocaine produces increases in brain reward thresholds that may reflect the "dysphoria" and anhedonia associated with cocaine dependence and suggests a dysregulation of brain reward systems possibly involving dopamine. Reliable measures for the acute reinforcing effects of ethanol in nondependent animals have been established in the rat using a lever press operant and a taste habituation procedure. Important roles have been established for serotonin, GABA, dopamine, and opioids in the acute reinforcing properties of ethanol, perhaps acting on some of the same neural circuitry subsuming the reinforcing actions of other drugs of abuse. Studies of the motivational aspects of ethanol dependence have suggested a functional role for brain corticotropin-releasing factor. These results suggest that the neurobiology of drug dependence involves not only neurotransmitters that mediate the acute reinforcing properties of drugs, but also the aversive motivational and emotional aspects of drug withdrawal. Advances in our understanding of brain changes associated with the switch from acute effects to chronic actions may provide a key to our understanding of not only drug dependence, but also psychopathology such as, anxiety, and affective disorders.

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