Washington: Scientists have discovered a molecular process in the brain triggered by cocaine use that could provide a target for treatments to prevent or reverse addiction to the drug.
Michigan State University neuroscientist A J Robison and colleagues explained that cocaine alters the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s pleasure centre that responds to stimuli such as food, sex and drugs.
The researchers found cocaine causes cells in the nucleus accumbens to boost production of two proteins, one associated with addiction and the other with learning. The proteins have a reciprocal relationship – they increase each other’s production and stability in the cells – so the result is a snowball effect that Robison calls a feed-forward loop.
They found that raising production of the protein linked to addiction made animals behave as if they were exposed to cocaine even when they weren’t. They also were able to break the loop, disrupting the response to cocaine by preventing the function of the learning protein.
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