Last updated January 25, 2018 at 9:57 am
A single protein may hold the key to curing cocaine addiction. It works in mice with drugs which are said to be safe for humans.
Scientists believe they have identified a protein responsible for cocaine addiction and have demonstrated its effects by successfully defeating drug dependency in mice.
Currently, there are no approved medications to treat cocaine addiction that don’t carry the risk of introducing a potential new substance for abuse.
“The results of this study are exciting because outside of 12-step programs and psychotherapy, no medication-assisted therapy exists to treat cocaine addiction,” lead scientist of the study, Dr Drew Kiraly said.
Past research has focused on supressing the reward centres of the brain by targeting chemical such as dopamine, but scientists have also found that cocaine use induces changes in the brain related to other neurotransmitters – including serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), norepinephrine, and glutamate.
This rises another issue with tyring to use drugs to tackle addiction.
Targeting these neurobiological centres also diminishes pleasure in other ways – this new research, however, may change that.
The researchers isolated a protein called granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) which was found to alter a mouse’s desire to consume cocaine.
G-CSF was injected directly into a region of the mouse’s brain which is associated with reward called the “nucleus accumbens.”
After the mice had been injected with the protein, they developed an insatiable appetite for cocaine but, importantly, it did not change their motivation to consume a more natural reward, sugar water.
On the other hand, injecting the mice with an antibody that reduced G-CSF in the nucleus accumbens was shown to lessen the mouse’s motivation to take cocaine.
Based on the studies in mice, the scientists believe they have found a method that accurately targets cocaine addiction whilst leaving other biologically rewarding behaviours untouched.
When the scientists looked at their options for controlling the amount of G-CSF in the brain they found that a large range of Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) drugs have already been approved for use in humans.
So, should this effect be replicated in humans, a clinical intervention for cocaine addition may only be a few years away.
Kiraly said, “once we clarify how G-CSF signalling can best be targeted to reduce addiction-like behaviours, there is a high possibility that treatments targeting G-CSF could be translated into clinical trials and treatments for patients.”
The study was published in Nature Communications.