Comment: Details on brain plasticity related to opiate use, including changes in VTA.

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med.

2012 Jul;2(7):a012070. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a012070.

Michelle S. Mazei-Robison and Eric J. Nestler


The study of neuronal adaptations induced by opiate drugs is particularly relevant today given their widespread prescription and nonprescription use. Although much is known about the acute actions of such drugs on the nervous system, a great deal of work remains to fully understand their chronic effects. Here, we focus on longer-lasting adaptations that occur in two catecholaminergic brain regions that mediate distinct behavioral actions of opiates: ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopaminergic neurons, important for drug reward, and locus coeruleus (LC) noradrenergic neurons, important for physical dependence and withdrawal. We focus on changes in cellular, synaptic, and structural plasticity in these brain regions that contribute to opiate dependence and addiction. Understanding the molecular determinants of this opiate–induced plasticity will be critical for the development of better treatments for opiate addiction and perhaps safer opiate drugs for medicinal use.