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Genes Brain Behav. 2017 Jan;16(1):185-204. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12328. Epub 2016 Oct 20.

How contexts promote and prevent relapse to drug seeking.

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School of Psychology, UNSW Australia, Sydney, Australia.


The contexts where drugs are self-administered play an important role in regulating persistent drug taking and in relapse to such taking after periods of abstinence. Here, we review the behavioral and brain mechanisms enabling contexts to promote and prevent relapse to drug seeking. We review the key brain structures, their neuropharmacology and their connectivity. We discuss the similarities and differences between the mechanisms for context-induced reinstatement of drug seeking vs. other forms of relapse to drug seeking in animal models and we highlight the numerous deficits in our understanding. We emphasize that current understanding, although significant, defies explanations in terms of models at the level of brain structures and their connectivity. Rather, we show that there is significant functional compartmentalization and segregation within these structures during reinstatement and extinction of drug seeking that parallels their anatomical segregation into circuits and channels. A key challenge is to recognize this complexity, understand how these circuits and channels are organized, as well as understand how different modes of activity of ensembles of neurons within them promote abstinence or relapse to drug seeking.


Accumbens; addiction; amygdala; circuits; context-induced reinstatement; learning; orexin; prefrontal cortex; reinstatement; relapse; renewal

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