Roles of dopamine and glutamate co-release in the nucleus accumbens in mediating the actions of drugs of abuse.
Projections of ventral tegmental area dopamine (DA) neurons to the medial shell of the nucleus accumbens have been increasingly implicated as integral to the behavioral and physiological changes involved in the development of substance use disorders (SUDs). Recently, many of these nucleus accumbens-projecting DA neurons were found to also release the neurotransmitter glutamate. This glutamate co-release from DA neurons is critical in mediating the effect of drugs of abuse on addiction-related behaviors. Potential mechanisms underlying the role(s) of dopamine/glutamate co-release in contributing to SUDs are unclear. Nevertheless, an important clue may relate to glutamate's ability to potentiate loading of DA into synaptic vesicles within terminals in the nucleus accumbens in response to drug-induced elevations in neuronal activity, enabling a more robust release of DA after stimulation. Here, we summarize how drugs of abuse, particularly cocaine, opioids, and alcohol, alter DA release in the nucleus accumbens medial shell, examine the potential role of DA/glutamate co-release in mediating these effects, and discuss future directions for further investigating these mechanisms.