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Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2005 Feb;5(1):20-5.

Synaptic plasticity and drug addiction.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DY, UK.


Recent studies have suggested that the development of addictive behaviours shares common features with traditional learning models. Synaptic plasticity, a possible substrate for learning, has been demonstrated in neural reward circuits and might contribute to the learning of addictive behaviours. Changes in the strength of synaptic connections have been investigated in dopaminergic cells of the ventral tegmental area in response to several addictive drugs. Rapid and persistent forms of synaptic plasticity (specifically, long-lasting synaptic potentiation) have been demonstrated to accompany some of the behavioural effects of addictive drugs. We hypothesize that drug-induced synaptic plasticity might play a role in reward-related learning and addiction by modifying the fine tuning of dopaminergic cell firing.

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