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Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2010;3:3-27. doi: 10.1007/7854_2009_23.

Neuroplastic alterations in the limbic system following cocaine or alcohol exposure.

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Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA.


Neuroplastic changes in the CNS are thought to be a fundamental component of learning and memory. While pioneering studies in the hippocampus and cerebellum have detailed many of the basic mechanisms that can lead to alterations in synaptic transmission based on previous activity, only more recently has synaptic plasticity been monitored after behavioral manipulation or drug exposure. In this chapter, we review evidence that drugs of abuse are powerful modulators of synaptic plasticity. Both the dopaminergic neurons of the ventral tegmental area as well medium spiny neurons in nucleus accumbens show enhanced excitatory synaptic strength following passive or active exposure to drugs such as cocaine and alcohol. In the VTA, both the enhancement of excitatory synaptic strength and the acquisition of drug-related behaviors depend on signaling through the N-methyl-D: -aspartate receptors (NMDARs) which are mechanistically thought to lead to increased synaptic insertion of α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptors (AMPARs). Synaptic insertion of AMPARs by drugs of abuse can be long lasting, depending on the route of administration, number of drug exposures, or whether the drugs are received passively or self-administered.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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