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Pharmacol Rev. 2011 Jun;63(2):348-65. doi: 10.1124/pr.109.001933. Epub 2011 Apr 13.

Drug wanting: behavioral sensitization and relapse to drug-seeking behavior.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, 874 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN 38163, USA.


Repeated exposure to drugs of abuse enhances the motor-stimulant response to these drugs, a phenomenon termed behavioral sensitization. Animals that are extinguished from self-administration training readily relapse to drug, conditioned cue, or stress priming. The involvement of sensitization in reinstated drug-seeking behavior remains controversial. This review describes sensitization and reinstated drug seeking as behavioral events, and the neural circuitry, neurochemistry, and neuropharmacology underlying both behavioral models will be described, compared, and contrasted. It seems that although sensitization and reinstatement involve overlapping circuitry and neurotransmitter and receptor systems, the role of sensitization in reinstatement remains ill-defined. Nevertheless, it is argued that sensitization remains a useful model for determining the neural basis of addiction, and an example is provided in which data from sensitization studies led to potential pharmacotherapies that have been tested in animal models of relapse and in human addicts.

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