Neurobiology of Stress
Despite extensive research efforts, drug addiction persists as a largely unmet medical need. Perhaps the biggest challenge for treating addiction is the high rate of recidivism. While many factors can promote relapse in abstinent drug users, the contribution of stress is particularly problematic, as stress is uncontrollable and pervasive in the lives of those struggling with addiction. Thus, understanding the neurocircuitry that underlies the influence of stress on drug seeking is critical for guiding treatment. Preclinical research aimed at defining this neurocircuitry has, in part, relied upon the use of experimental approaches that allow visualization of cellular and circuit activity that corresponds to stressor-induced drug seeking in rodent relapse models. Much of what we have learned about the mechanisms that mediate stressor-induced relapse has been informed by studies that have used the expression of the immediate early gene, cfos, or its protein product, Fos, as post-mortem activity markers. In this review we provide an overview of the rodent models used to study stressor-induced relapse and briefly summarize what is known about the underlying neurocircuitry before describing the use of cfos/Fos-based approaches. In addition to reviewing findings obtained using this approach, its advantages and limitations are considered. Moreover, new techniques that leverage the expression profile of cfos to tag and manipulate cells based on their activity patterns are discussed. The intent of the review is to guide the interpretation of old and design of new studies that utilize cfos/Fos-based strategies to study the neurocircuitry that contributes to stress-related drug use.
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