To explore the functional consequences of cannabinoid withdrawal in the rat mesolimbic dopamine system, we investigated the anatomical morphology of the mesencephalic, presumed dopaminergic, neurons and their main post-synaptic target in the Nucleus Accumbens. We found that TH-positive neurons shrink and Golgi-stained medium spiny neurons loose dendritic spines in withdrawal rats after chronic cannabinoids administration. Similar results were observed after administration of the cannabinoid antagonist rimonabant to drug-naive rats supporting a role for endocannabinoids in neurogenesis, axonal growth and synaptogenesis. This evidence supports the tenet that withdrawal from addictive compounds alters functioning of the mesolimbic system. The data add to a growing body of work which indicates a hypodopaminergic state as a distinctive feature of the “addicted brain”.
Keywords: Cannabinoids, dopamine, nucleus accumbens, withdrawal, cannabis derivatives, cannabinoid CB1 receptors, neuro- biological effects, psychological functions, dopamine (DA), Ventral Tegmental area (VTA), cannabinoid dependence
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