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ACS Chem Neurosci. 2017 Sep 20;8(9):1830-1838. doi: 10.1021/acschemneuro.7b00281. Epub 2017 Aug 16.

Opiates and Plasticity in the Ventral Tegmental Area.

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Department of Pharmacology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences , Bethesda, Maryland 20814, United States.


Opioids are among the most effective pain relievers; however, their abuse has been on the rise worldwide evident from an alarming increase in accidental opioid overdoses. This demands for an urgent increase in scientific endeavors for better understanding of main cellular mechanisms and circuits involved in opiate addiction. Preclinical studies strongly suggest that memories associated with positive and negative opioid experiences are critical in promoting compulsive opiate-seeking and opiate-taking behaviors, and relapse. Particular focus on synaptic plasticity as the cellular correlate of learning and memory has rapidly evolved in drug addiction field over the past two decades. Several critical addiction-related brain areas are identified, one of which is the ventral tegmental area (VTA), an area intensively studied as the initial locus for drug reward. Here, we provide an update to our previous review on "Opiates and Plasticity" highlighting the most recent discoveries of synaptic plasticity associated with opiates in the VTA. Electrophysiological studies of plasticity of addiction to date have been invaluable in addressing learning processes and mechanisms that underlie motivated and addictive behaviors, and now with the availability of powerful technologies of transgenic approaches and optogenetics, circuit-based studies hold high promise in fostering synaptic studies of opiate addiction.


LTD; LTP; Synaptic plasticity; VTA; addiction; opiates

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