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NIDA Res Monogr. 1988;88:55-77.

Sensitization to cocaine in the nigrostriatal dopamine system.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver 80262.


Behavioral sensitization involving the nigrostriatal dopaminergic tract is manifested after treatment with only a single dose of cocaine and is augmented following repeated treatment. One neurochemical change observed that is consistent with behavioral sensitization is the increase in amphetamine-induced 3H-DA release from striatal slices seen after one injection of cocaine. One day after repeated administration of cocaine, however, the increase is no longer evident. It is possible that transient compensatory changes, such as increased D-2 autoreceptor inhibition, may obscure this effect when it is measured at relatively short times after the repeated administration has been terminated. One day after cessation of repeated cocaine administration, D-2 autoreceptors in both striatum and substantia nigra compacta were upregulated consistent with a compensatory mechanism and the development of behavioral tolerance rather than sensitization. In contrast, DA content, neuronal DA uptake, and postsynaptic D-2 DA receptors in striatum were not regulated by this treatment. Likewise, D-1 DA receptors in striatum and substantia nigra were unaffected. In the mesolimbic system, both the pre- and postsynaptic receptor changes are consistent with sensitization. Amphetamine-stimulated release from nucleus accumbens has not yet been measured in cocaine-sensitized animals. It is possible that changes similar to those seen in striatum may occur in this area. It is interesting that, in general, presynaptic parameters associated with the DA neuron, with the notable exception of the uptake pump, appear to be more sensitive to regulation by cocaine administration than do postsynaptic parameters. The long-lasting effects of a single moderate dose of cocaine are also surprising. It will be important to determine the molecular mechanisms underlying this regulation and whether or not similar changes are induced in mesolimbic dopaminergic systems by single and repeated administration of cocaine.

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