Monday, March 27, 2017

This Research May Pave the Way for New Cocaine Addiction Treatments

Women scientists working in an addiction treatment lab
Hypocretin. It’s a neuropeptide that usually doesn’t get a lot of press, but it plays a pivotal role in regulating essential physiological functions like sleep, wakefulness and appetite.

But, what else is impacted by hypocretin? Does it affect our health in other ways? Recently, a team of scientists from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) wanted to answer those same questions to better understand how hypocretin influences other aspects of health, specifically addiction.

Their findings were published in Biological Psychiatry and the research suggests that blocking hypocretin signaling may reduce cravings for cocaine and this could possibly pave the way for new treatment therapies.

To conduct the study, the lead author, Dr. Brooke Schmeichel, and his team set up an experiment that enabled rats to self-administer cocaine by pressing a simple lever. One group was given short-term access (1 hour) and another was given more access (6 hours) to the drug. The team of scientists also injected the rats with a hypocretin antagonist, a compound that blocked the brain’s ability to use the neuropeptide.

As a result, the rats who could access cocaine for longer durations exhibited a substantial decline in self-administered drug use. These findings suggest that the hypocretin/orexin (HCRT) system of the brain may play an important role in cocaine abuse and addiction.

"The more that we learn about the brain, the more that we learn that brain signaling mechanisms that play a particular defined function, such as a role in wakefulness or appetite, often play important roles in other functions, such as addiction," said professor John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry.

Given that cocaine addiction is a pervasive condition that directly affects thousands of Americans (and their friends, family and loved ones), it’s important to continue to invest in research exploring new treatment methodologies and therapies.

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