Adaptive increase in D3 dopamine receptors in the brain reward circuits of human cocaine fatalities

Julie K. Staley, Deborah C. Mash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

277 Scopus citations


The mesolimbic dopaminergic system plays a primary role in mediating the euphoric and rewarding effects of most abused drugs. Chronic cocaine use is associated with an increase in dopamine neurotransmission resulting from the blockade of dopamine uptake and is mediated by the activation of dopamine receptors. Recent studies have suggested that the D3 receptor subtype plays a pivotal role in the reinforcing effects of cocaine. The D3 receptor- preferring agonist 7-hydroxy-N,N-di-n-propyl-2-aminotetralin (7-OH-DPAT) is a reinforcer in rhesus monkeys trained to self-administer cocaine, but not in cocaine-naive monkeys. In vitro autoradiographic localization of [3H]-(+)- 7-OH-DPAT binding in the human brain demonstrated that D3 receptors were prevalent and highly localized over the ventromedial sectors of the striatum. Pharmacological characterization of [3H]-(+)-7-OH-DPAT binding to the human nucleus accumbens demonstrated a rank order of potency similar to that observed for binding to the cloned D3 receptor expressed in transfected cell lines. Region-of-interest analysis of [3H]-(+)-7-OH-DPAT binding to the D3 receptor demonstrated a one- to threefold elevation in the number of binding sites over particular sectors of the striatum and substantia nigra in cocaine overdose victims as compared with age-matched and drug-free control subjects. The elevated number of [3H]-(+)-7-OH-DPAT binding sites demonstrates that adaptive changes in the D3 receptor in the reward circuitry of the brain are associated with chronic cocaine abuse. These results suggest that the D3 receptor may be a useful target for drug development of anti-cocaine medications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6100-6106
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • (+)-7-OH-DPAT
  • brain
  • cocaine
  • D receptor
  • density
  • human

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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