The Role of Social Stress in Cocaine Addiction

by Aaron Gochman (’18)

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Fig. 1: Studies show that social stress may lead to increased vulnerability to cocaine addiction.

This week, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin contributed a novel idea to addiction research. Focusing on glutamatergic synaptic transmission, the primary mode of excitatory signaling in the central nervous system, the group hypothesized that social stress would lead to increased vulnerability to cocaine addiction. Specifically, the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain, a prime location for dopamine reward activity, was tested in rats that had experienced social stress.

The results of the experiments indicate that enhancement of neurotransmission, known as synaptic plasticity, is more likely to occur in the VTA following stress exposure. This finding is particularly important in the context of cocaine addiction, as the reward system for this process is located in the same area.

  1. C. Stelly, et al., Repeated social defeat stress enhances glutamatergic synaptic plasticity in the VTA and cocaine place conditioning. eLife (2016). doi:
  2. Image retrieved from:

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