Preclinical studies of cocaine self-administration agree on the importance of medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) activation in rodent cocaine seeking but have pointed to distinct, apparently conflicting roles for this structure, depending on whether researchers use addiction-based models (continuing to take a drug despite negative consequences) or models of cue-induced relapse. In a new review article, researchers at the NIDA Intramural Research Program propose a framework for reconciling previous findings. Parallels between rodent studies and human neuroimaging studies of cocaine users point to dynamic interactions between cue-reactivity and control processes in MPFC circuitry: Specifically, dorsal MPFC activation may promote cue-induced drug seeking and relapse unless drug cues have acquired aversive salience, in which case activation of the same area suppresses those responses. This more nuanced perspective on the MPFC’s role in cocaine addiction indicates the need for treatment and prevention strategies that target specific computational processes rather than circumscribed brain structures that may play multiple functional roles.
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