Substance use disorders are global health problems with few effective treatment options. Unfortunately, most potential pharmacological treatments are hindered by abuse potential of their own, limited efficacy, or adverse side effects. As a consequence, there is a pressing need for the development of addiction treatments with limited abuse potential and fewer off target effects. Given the difficulties in developing new pharmacotherapies for substance use disorders, there has been growing interest in medications that act on non-traditional targets. Recent evidence suggests a role for dysregulated immune signaling in the pathophysiology of multiple psychiatric diseases. While there is evidence that immune responses in the periphery and the central nervous system are altered by exposure to drugs of abuse, the contributions of neuroimmune interactions to addictive behaviors are just beginning to be appreciated. In this review, we discuss the data on immunological changes seen in clinical populations with substance use disorders, as well as in translational animal models of addiction. Importantly, we highlight those mechanistic findings showing causal roles for central or peripheral immune mediators in substance use disorder and appropriate animal models. Based on the literature reviewed here, it is clear that brain-immune system interactions in substance use disorders are much more complex and important than previously understood. While much work remains to be done, there are tremendous potential therapeutic implications for immunomodulatory treatments in substance use disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2562-2573
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2019


  • addiction
  • immune effects of drugs of abuse
  • inflammation
  • microbiome


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