May 15, 2001 Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have identified a key mechanism involved in relapse to cocaine addiction. In determining the involvement of the neurotransmitter glutamate in relapse in the rat, the Einstein researchers also suggest a promising target for developing effective treatments for preventing relapses. They report their findings in the May 11 issue of Science.
"We stimulated a region of the brain that contains the neurotransmitter glutamate and were able to cause relapse," explains Dr. Stanislav R. Vorel, first author of the study that he and his Einstein colleagues conducted in conjunction with Dr. Eliot Gardner of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a unit of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
The study explored the effects of electrical stimulation of the hippocampus region of the brain, which is one of the regions associated with memory.
"We found that electrical stimulation of the hippocampus, a memory area that may underlie the memory of drug effects, led to drug-seeking behavior," says Dr. Vorel, who is a graduate student at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Vorel previously received his M.D. degree in the Netherlands.
Further, the researchers were able to demonstrate that a glutamate blocker (kynurenic acid) blocks relapse, suggesting to them that glutamate blockers could be good ingredients for developing new addiction treatments.
"Previous drug development has focused on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is connected to the 'liking' region of the brain, rather than the 'wanting' response we observed in the hippocampus," says Dr. Vorel. "Since 'wanting' a drug is more directly connected to relapse - which is the greatest hindrance to successful addiction treatment - we believe glutamate could prove a promising target for new drug developments designed to treat cocaine addiction."
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