Psychological drug tolerance, Sensitization
The reward system is partly responsible for the psychological part of drug tolerance;
The CREB protein, a transcription factor activated by cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) immediately after a high, triggers genes that produce proteins such as dynorphin, which cuts off dopamine release and temporarily inhibits the reward circuit. In chronic drug users, a sustained activation of CREB thus forces a larger dose to be taken to reach the same effect. In addition it leaves the user feeling generally depressed and dissatisfied, and unable to find pleasure in previously enjoyable activities, often leading to a return to the drug for an additional "fix".
Sensitization is the increase in sensitivity to a drug after prolonged use. The proteins delta FosB and regulator of G-protein Signaling 9-2 (RGS 9-2) are thought to be involved:
A transcription factor, known as delta FosB, is thought to activate genes that, counter to the effects of CREB, actually increase the user's sensitivity to the effects of the substance. Delta FosB slowly builds up with each exposure to the drug and remains activated for weeks after the last exposure—long after the effects of CREB have faded. The hypersensitivity that it causes is thought to be responsible for the intense cravings associated with drug addiction, and is often extended to even the peripheral cues of drug use, such as related behaviors or the sight of drug paraphernalia. There is some evidence that delta FosB even causes structural changes within the nucleus accumbens, which presumably helps to perpetuate the cravings, and may be responsible for the high incidence of relapse that occur in treated drug addicts.
Regulator of G-protein Signaling 9-2 (RGS 9-2) has recently been the subject of several animal knockout studies. Animals lacking RGS 9-2 appear to have increased sensitivity to dopamine receptor agonists such as cocaine and amphetamines; over-expression of RGS 9-2 causes a lack of responsiveness to these same agonists. RGS 9-2 is believed to catalyze inactivation of the G-protein coupled D2 receptor by enhancing the rate of GTP hydrolysis of the G alpha subunit which transmits signals into the interior of the cell.