Striatal signal transduction and drug addiction

Academic Article


  • Drug addiction is a severe neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by loss of control over motivated behavior. The need for effective treatments mandates a greater understanding of the causes and identification of new therapeutic targets for drug development. Drugs of abuse subjugate normal reward-related behavior to uncontrollable drug-seeking and -taking. Contributions of brain reward circuitry are being mapped with increasing precision.The role of synaptic plasticity in addiction and underlying molecular mechanisms contributing to the formation of the addicted state are being delineated. Thus we may now consider the role of striatal signal transduction in addiction from a more integrative neurobiological perspective. Drugs of abuse alter dopaminergic and glutamatergic neurotransmission in medium spiny neurons of the striatum. Dopamine receptors important for reward serve as principle targets of drugs abuse, which interact with glutamate receptor signaling critical for reward learning. Complex networks of intracellular signal transduction mechanisms underlying these receptors are strongly stimulated by addictive drugs. Through these mechanisms, repeated drug exposure alters functional and structural neuroplasticity, resulting in transition to the addicted biological state and behavioral outcomes that typify addiction. Ca 2+ and cAMP represent key second messengers that initiate signaling cascades, which regulate synaptic strength and neuronal excitability. Protein phosphorylation and dephosphorylation are fundamental mechanisms underlying synaptic plasticity that are dysregulated by drugs of abuse. Increased understanding of the regulatory mechanisms by which protein kinases and phosphatases exert their effects during normal reward learning and the addiction process may lead to novel targets and pharmacotherapeutics with increased efficacy in promoting abstinence and decreased side effects, such as interference with natural reward, for drug addiction.
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  • Philibin SD; Hernandez A; Self DW; Bibb JA
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