Drug addiction remains a key biomedical challenge facing current neuroscience research. In addition to neural mechanisms, the focus of the vast majority of studies to date, astrocytes have been increasingly recognized as an “accomplice.” According to the tripartite synapse model, astrocytes critically regulate nearby pre- and postsynaptic neuronal substrates to craft experience-dependent synaptic plasticity, including synapse formation and elimination. Astrocytes within brain regions that are implicated in drug addiction exhibit dynamic changes in activity upon exposure to cocaine and subsequently undergo adaptive changes themselves during chronic drug exposure. Recent results have identified several key astrocytic signaling pathways that are involved in cocaine-induced synaptic and circuit adaptations. In this review, we provide a brief overview of the role of astrocytes in regulating synaptic transmission and neuronal function, and discuss how cocaine influences these astrocyte-mediated mechanisms to induce persistent synaptic and circuit alterations that promote cocaine seeking and relapse. We also consider the therapeutic potential of targeting astrocytic substrates to ameliorate drug-induced neuroplasticity for behavioral benefits. While primarily focusing on cocaine-induced astrocytic responses, we also include brief discussion of other drugs of abuse where data are available.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)652-668
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


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