Noradrenergic transmission in the extended amygdala: Role in increased drug-seeking and relapse during protracted drug abstinence

Rachel J. Smith, Gary Aston-Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Studies reviewed here implicate the extended amygdala in the negative affective states and increased drug-seeking that occur during protracted abstinence from chronic drug exposure. Norepinephrine (NE) and corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) signaling in the extended amygdala, including the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, shell of the nucleus accumbens, and central nucleus of the amygdala, are generally involved in behavioral responses to environmental and internal stressors. Hyperactivity of stress response systems during addiction drives many negative components of drug abstinence. In particular, NE signaling from the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) to the extended amygdala, along with increased CRF transmission within the extended amygdala, are critical for the aversiveness of acute opiate withdrawal as well as stress-induced relapse of drug-seeking for opiates, cocaine, ethanol, and nicotine. NE and CRF transmission in the extended amygdala are also implicated in the increased anxiety that occurs during prolonged abstinence from chronic opiates, cocaine, ethanol, and cannabinoids. Many of these stress-associated behaviors are reversed by NE or CRF antagonists given systemically or locally within the extended amygdala. Finally, increased Fos activation in the extended amygdala and NTS is associated with the enhanced preference for drugs and decreased preference for natural rewards observed during protracted abstinence from opiates and cocaine, indicating that these areas are involved in the altered reward processing associated with addiction. Together, these findings suggest that involvement of the extended amygdala and its noradrenergic afferents in anxiety, stress-induced relapse, and altered reward processing reflects a common function for these circuits in stress modulation of drug-seeking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-61
Number of pages19
JournalBrain Structure and Function
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anatomy
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Histology


  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Norepinephrine
  • Reinstatement
  • Withdrawal

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