Discovery May Lead to New Treatment for Cocaine Addicts
By discovering a molecular process in the brain that is triggered by cocaine use, scientists may have provided a focus for treatments that could prevent or reverse addiction to cocaine.
Researchers say that cocaine alters the brain’s nucleus accumbens, the pleasure center that is engaged when stimulated by things such as drugs, sex and food. Understanding what happens to this part of the brain when exposed long-term to drugs may help researchers understand how addiction develops.
Michigan State University neuroscientist A.J. Robison reported in the Journal of Neuroscience that by raising production of the protein linked to addiction, laboratory rodents behave as if they had been exposed to cocaine even if they had never been.
“Robison said the study was particularly compelling because it found signs of the same feed-forward loop in the brains of people who died while addicted to cocaine. “The increased production of these proteins that we found in the animals exposed to drugs was exactly paralleled in a population of human cocaine addicts,” he said. “That makes us believe that the further experiments and manipulations we did in the animals are directly relevant to humans.”
Especially encouraging is Robison’s belief that understanding addiction at a molecular level could help with the development of new treatments for all addicts.
“This sort of molecular pathway could be interrupted using genetic medicine, which is what we did with the mice,” he said. “Many researchers think that is the future of medicine.”
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