Research Identifies Brain Mechanism Involved in Cocaine Addiction

Research Identifies Brain Mechanism Involved in Cocaine Addiction

Understanding cocaine addiction is central to treating it. Scientists have long known that there are certain areas of the brain related to pleasure and reward that are activated by certain behaviors, like eating dessert or using drugs or alcohol. The research in this area has been narrowing down the region and specific neurons involved with cocaine addiction.

Some patients are successful at recovering from cocaine addiction using traditional methods like group and individual therapy sessions to address the behaviors associated with cocaine use. For some, however, these methods are ineffective and the patient may require additional help.

With information about the specific areas of the brain involved with cocaine addiction, there may be an opportunity to develop medications that target responses in the brain. A new study from researchers at the University of Texas provides a key step to development of more effective treatment.

The study’s findings appear in the journal Neuron and provide information about a brain function that reduces the reward response when cocaine is used. The research involved analysis of a protective function of the brain that represses genes that promote addiction-related patterns of behavior.

The authors of the study explain that any type of drug addiction is highlighted by a change of patterns in the brain related to reward response. It has been believed that some genes are responsible for determining whether addiction takes hold when a drug is introduced to the system.

In recent studies, researchers have discovered that there may be a connection between histone deacetylases (HDACs), which modulate the expression of genes, and the regulation of the response to cocaine. The team that conducted the study discussed here sought to understand the ways that cocaine impacts HDACs and whether the regulation of HDACs might change behaviors related to addiction.

Led by Dr. Christopher W. Cowan from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the team used an animal model to observe how cocaine initiated a unique signaling pathway that affected relocation to the cell nucleus by the HDACs. The cell nucleus is the location of gene expression, and the researchers discovered that the process was required for the cocaine reward-associated pattern to occur.

Dr. Cowan likened the process to putting a brake on genes associated with drug stimulation, which would usually sustain behavioral changes associated with drug use. The discoveries in this study may be useful in understanding the destructive behaviors associated with addiction and may also help explain why some individuals are likely to become addicted to a drug and others are not.

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