The Impact of Cocaine Exposure in Adolescence: Behavioral Effects and Neuroplastic Mechanisms in Experimental Models.

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Drug addiction is a devastating disorder with a huge economic and social burden for modern society. While an individual may slip into drug abuse throughout his/her life, adolescents are at higher risk but, up to date, only few studies attempted to elucidate the underlying cellular and molecular bases of such vulnerability. Indeed, preclinical evidence indicates that psychostimulants and adolescence interact and contribute to promoting a dysfunctional brain. In this review, we have focused our attention primarily on changes in neuroplasticity brought about by cocaine, taking into account that evidence from exposure to cocaine in adolescence is limited in magnitude when comparing to adulthood. This review clearly shows that exposure to cocaine during adolescence, be it acute or chronic, as well as contingent or non-contingent, confers a vulnerable endophenotype by primarily causing changes in neuroplasticity. Given the tight relationship between drug abuse and psychiatric disorders, we will also discuss the translational implications providing an interpretative framework for clinical studies involving addictive as well as affective or psychotic behaviors.

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Authors: Lucia Caffino, Francesca Mottarlini, Gianmaria Zita, Dawid Gawliński, Kinga Gawlińska, Karolina Wydra, Edmund Przegaliński, Fabio Fumagalli