Changing How The Brain Processes Addictions: New Treatment Possibility

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New research is yielding a promising lifestyle altering treatment for cocaine addiction. Imagine putting an end to cravings for the drug by taking a pill.

While therapy may still be necessary to address emotional and behavioral issues related to a cocaine addition, the drug’s hold would be weakened by a pharmacological mechanism that quiets craving signals in the brain.

How Cocaine Nurtures Craving For Itself In the Brain

Synapses are structures that sit at the end of nerve cells and pass along messages from one nerve to the next. When people use cocaine, it stimulates the growth of new synapses in a part of the brain associated with emotion, pleasure, reward, and addiction. These synapses are not fully developed and are called “silent synapses” since they are not mature enough to transmit much information.

However, the immature “silent synapses” continue to grow and eventually are mature enough to relay quality signals. If an addicted individual is exposed to cues for cocaine, these newly matured synapses—that came into being through cocaine use—will pass along messages of craving for cocaine.

Keeping Silent Synapses Silent

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh surmised that if the silent cocaine-triggered synapses were prevented from maturing, they would never effectively send signals of cocaine craving. The scientists accomplished this by removing a chemical receptor (CP-AMPAR) from these synapses. The synapses lapse back into silence without this receptor.

“Reversing the maturation process prevents the intensification process of cocaine craving,” said researcher Yan Dong. “We are now developing strategies to maintain the reversal effects. Our goal is to develop biological and pharmacological strategies to produce long-lasting de-maturation of cocaine-generated silent synapses.”

Although this research is still in the lab rat testing phase, it may be possible—in the not too distant future—to pop a pill that changes the way our brain processes messages related to chemical addiction.

Source: Science Daily

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