Dopamine Signaling in the Nucleus Accumbens of Animals Self-Administering Drugs of Abuse

  • Ingo WilluhnEmail author
  • Matthew J. Wanat
  • Jeremy J. Clark
  • Paul E. M. Phillips
Part of the Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences book series (CTBN, volume 3)


Abuse of psychoactive substances can lead to drug addiction. In animals, addiction is best modeled by drug self-administration paradigms. It has been proposed that the crucial common denominator for the development of drug addiction is the ability of drugs of abuse to increase extracellular concentrations of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). Studies using in vivo microdialysis and chronoamperometry in the behaving animal have demonstrated that drugs of abuse increase tonic dopamine concentrations in the NAcc. However, it is known that dopamine neurons respond to reward-related stimuli on a subsecond timescale. Thus, it is necessary to collect neurochemical information with this level of temporal resolution, as achieved with in vivo fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV), to fully understand the role of phasic dopamine release in normal behavior and drug addiction. We review studies that investigated the effects of drugs of abuse on NAcc dopamine levels in freely moving animals using in vivo microdialysis, chronoamperometry, and FSCV. After a brief introduction of dopamine signal transduction and anatomy and a section on current theories on the role of dopamine in natural goal-directed behavior, a discussion of techniques for the in vivo assessment of extracellular dopamine in behaving animals is presented. Then, we review studies using these techniques to investigate changes in phasic and tonic dopamine signaling in the NAcc during (1) response-dependent and -independent administration of abused drugs, (2) the presentation of drug-conditioned stimuli and operant behavior in self-administration paradigms, (3) drug withdrawal, and (4) cue-induced reinstatement of drug seeking. These results are then integrated with current ideas on the role of dopamine in addiction with an emphasis on a model illustrating phasic and tonic NAcc dopamine signaling during different stages of drug addiction. This model predicts that phasic dopamine release in response to drug-related stimuli will be enhanced over stimuli associated with natural reinforcers, which may result in aberrant goal-directed behaviors contributing to drug addiction.


Dopamine Drug self-administration Drugs of abuse Nucleus accumbens Drug addiction Fast-scan cyclic voltammetry Phasic and tonic dopamine signaling 


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ingo Willuhn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew J. Wanat
    • 1
  • Jeremy J. Clark
    • 1
  • Paul E. M. Phillips
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Department of PharmacologyUniversity of Washington, Health Sciences BuildingSeattleUSA

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