Cocaine Withdrawal and Neuro-Adaptations in Ion Channel Function

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Chronic exposure to psychostimulants induces neuro-adaptations in ion channel function of dopamine (DA)-innervated cells localized within the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAc). Although neuroplasticity in ion channel function is initially found in drug-sensitized animals, it has recently been believed to underlie the withdrawal effects of cocaine, including craving that leads to relapse in human addicts. Recent studies have also revealed remarkable differences in altered ion channel activities between mPFC pyramidal neurons and medium spiny NAc neurons in cocaine-withdrawn animals. In response to psychostimulant or certain “excitatory” stimuli, increased intrinsic excitability is found in mPFC pyramidal neurons, whereas decreased excitability is observed in medium spiny NAc cells in drug-withdrawn animals compared to drug-free control animals. These changes in ion channel function are modulated by interrupted DA/Ca2+ signaling with decreased DA D2 receptor function but increased D1 receptor signaling. More importantly, they are correlated to behavioral changes in cocaine-withdrawn human addicts and sensitized animals. Based on growing evidence, researchers have proposed that cocaine-induced neuro-adaptations in ion channel activity and DA/Ca2+ signaling in mPFC pyramidal neurons and medium spiny NAc cells may be the fundamental cellular mechanism underlying the cocaine withdrawal effects observed in human addicts.

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