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Brain Res. 2010 Feb 16;1314:219-34. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2009.11.002. Epub 2009 Nov 10.

Molecular and genetic substrates linking stress and addiction.

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Department of Pharmacology, The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, TRL, 125 South 31(st) Street, USA.


Drug addiction is one of the top three health concerns in the United States in terms of economic and health care costs. Despite this, there are very few effective treatment options available. Therefore, understanding the causes and molecular mechanisms underlying the transition from casual drug use to compulsive drug addiction could aid in the development of treatment options. Studies in humans and animal models indicate that stress can lead to both vulnerability to develop addiction, and increased drug taking and relapse in addicted individuals. Exposure to stress or drugs of abuse results in long-term adaptations in the brain that are likely to involve persistent alterations in gene expression or activation of transcription factors, such as the cAMP Response Element Binding (CREB) protein. The signaling pathways controlled by CREB have been strongly implicated in drug addiction and stress. Many potential CREB target genes have been identified based on the presence of a CRE element in promoter DNA sequences. These include, but are not limited to CRF, BDNF, and dynorphin. These genes have been associated with initiation or reinstatement of drug reward and are altered in one direction or the other following stress. While many reviews have examined the interactions between stress and addiction, the goal of this review was to focus on specific molecules that play key roles in both stress and addiction and are therefore posed to mediate the interaction between the two. Focus on these molecules could provide us with new targets for pharmacological treatments for addiction.

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