Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and addiction: Pathological versus therapeutic effects on drug seeking

J.M. Barker, J.R. Taylor, T.J. de Vries, J. Peters

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Many abused drugs lead to changes in endogenous brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression in neural circuits responsible for addictive behaviors. BDNF is a known molecular mediator of memory consolidation processes, evident at both behavioral and neurophysiological levels. Specific neural circuits are responsible for storing and executing drug-procuring motor programs, whereas other neural circuits are responsible for the active suppression of these "seeking" systems. These seeking-circuits are established as associations are formed between drug-associated cues and the conditioned responses they elicit. Such conditioned responses (e.g. drug seeking) can be diminished either through a passive weakening of seeking- circuits or an active suppression of those circuits through extinction. Extinction learning occurs when the association between cues and drug are violated, for example, by cue exposure without the drug present. Cue exposure therapy has been proposed as a therapeutic avenue for the treatment of addictions. Here we explore the role of BDNF in extinction circuits, compared to seeking-circuits that "incubate" over prolonged withdrawal periods. We begin by discussing the role of BDNF in extinction memory for fear and cocaine-seeking behaviors, where extinction circuits overlap in infralimbic prefrontal cortex (PFC). We highlight the ability of estrogen to promote BDNF-like effects in hippocampal-prefrontal circuits and consider the role of sex differences in extinction and incubation of drug-seeking behaviors. Finally, we examine how opiates and alcohol "break the mold" in terms of BDNF function in extinction circuits. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled SI:Addiction circuits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-81
JournalBrain Research
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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