Researchers identify how stress causes relapse

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Research from Brown University suggests that preventing stress-induced relapse in addicts or alcoholics may be possible with a handy little chemical.

Nor-BMI, a substance used on rats which showed promising results in preventing drug relapse, may be tested on humans soon.

Scientists target area of the brain that causes relapse

The research team was able to target a specific brain region in rats where the neural process that leads to relapse occurs. By honing in on this region, they were able to intervene before the process finished, preventing relapse that is caused by stress.

Other studies have shown stress to be a critical factor in determining whether addicts and alcoholics slip up, but the new study shows just how this process works in the brain. According to the researchers, stress affects the plasticity of the synapses on dopamine neurons that occur in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain. This is the same region where a stress-based process takes place that eventually leads to relapse. Stress, the researchers say, activates kappa opioid receptors (KORs) in this region. By blocking the KORs, relapse was preventable, even when the rats were under stress.

“If we understand how kappa opioid receptor antagonists are interfering with the reinstatement of drug seeking, we can target that process,” study author Julie Kauer said in a statement.

Brain synapse changes are key in addiction

Kauer says that understanding the process can hopefully lead to therapeutic solutions that will work for those struggling with addiction - and may even speed up the process significantly.

“If we can figure out how not only stress, but the whole system works, then we’ll potentially have a way to tune it down in a person who needs that,” Kauer said.

Source: Huffington Post

Image courtesy of akeeris / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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