New Study Helps Explain Why Cocaine Is So Addictive

New Study Helps Explain Why Cocaine Is So Addictive

Researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine have become the first to find a link between specific neurons and alterations in the “reward” people feel after taking cocaine. Mary Kay Lobo, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and first author of the study, said that they found that the two main neurons in the nucleus accumbens (an important part of the brain’s reward center) have opposite effects on cocaine reward.

The study found that chronic exposure to cocaine results in increased activity in D1 neurons and decreased activity in D2 neurons. Activation of D1 neurons increases cocaine reward, and activation of D2 neurons decreases cocaine reward.

The researchers used optogenetics, which is a technology that optically controls neuron activity in rodents. They activated neurons by disrupting brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is a protein in the brain that is associated with learning, memory, neuronal survival, and drug abuse signaling through the receptor TrkB, found in D1 or D2 neurons.

Eric Nestler, MD, PhD, Chair of Neuroscience, Nash Family Professor, and Director of The Friedman Brain Institute at Mount Sinai and co-author on the study, said that this study provides new information on how cocaine takes over the brain’s reward center, and how it can affect two neuronal subtypes in the nucleus accumbens. This information could help develop new methods for cocaine addiction treatment.

Source: Science Daily, Why Cocaine Is So Addictive: Activation of Specific Neurons Linked to Alterations in Cocaine Reward, October 18, 2010

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