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Individual Differences and Vulnerability to Drug Addiction: A Focus on the Endocannabinoid System

[ Vol. 14 , Issue. 4 ]


Claudia Sagheddu and Miriam Melis   Pages 502 - 517 ( 16 )


Vulnerability to drug addiction depends upon the interactions between the biological makeup of the individual, the environment, and age. These interactions are complex and difficult to tease apart. Since dopamine is involved in the rewarding effects of drugs of abuse, it is postulated that innate differences in mesocorticolimbic pathway can influence the response to drug exposure. In particular, higher and lower expression of dopamine D2 receptors in the ventral striatum (i.e. a marker of dopamine function) has been considered a putative protective and a risk factor, respectively, that can influence one's susceptibility to continued drug abuse as well as the transition to addiction. This phenomenon, which is phylogenetically preserved, appears to be a compensatory change to increased impulse activity of midbrain dopamine neurons. Hence, dopamine neuronal excitability plays a fundamental role in the diverse stages of the drug addiction cycle. In this review, a framework for the evidence that modulation of dopamine neuronal activity plays in the context of vulnerability to drug addiction will be presented. Furthermore, since endogenous cannabinoids serve as retrograde messengers to shape afferent neuronal activity in a short- and long-lasting fashion, their role in individual differences and vulnerability to drug addiction will be discussed.


Dopamine, drug addiction, endocannabinoid, lipids, midbrain, vulnerability.


Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Cagliari, Cittadella Universitaria, 09042 Monserrato (CA), Italy.

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