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David Dietz, PhD

David Dietz, PhD, led a research team that discovered an unknown neural pathway that may be able to prevent cocaine relapses.

Neural Pathway May Lead To Preventing Relapses in Addicts

Published August 27, 2015

Researchers in the lab of David Dietz, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, discovered an unknown neural pathway that can regulate changes made in the brain from cocaine use. 

“If we can control this pathway, we may be able to help prevent relapses in people who have been abstinent from cocaine.”
Professor of pharmacology and toxicology

Amy Gancarz, PhD, first author, worked on the study under the direction of Dietz while she was a fellow with the Research Institute on Addictions

Pathway Controls Ability of Cocaine to Induce Change

By manipulating the activity of activin receptors, found in the brain, the researchers were able to increase or decrease cocaine-taking and relapse behavior in animal models.

They discovered that the activin pathway controls the ability of the drug to induce this change in the neurons. By regulating the expression of a number of genes, the activin receptor may control this response. 

“If we can control this pathway, we may be able to help prevent relapses in people who have been abstinent from cocaine,” said Dietz. 

Cocaine Alters Connections Between Neurons

“Cocaine use alters the connections between certain neurons through changes in the shape of the cells,” said Dietz. 

Eventually, after withdrawal, alterations in the brain are unmasked.

“There is a need to more fully understand the long-term molecular changes in the brain involved in drug craving and relapse,” said Gancarz.

Co-Authored By Collaborating UB Faculty

The study, Activin Receptor Signaling Regulates Cocaine-Primed Behavioral and Morphological Plasticity, was published in Nature Neuroscience.

Co-authors from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology are:

  • Zi-Jun Wang, PhD
  • Gabrielle L. Schroeder
  • Kevin M. Braunscheidel
  • Lauren E. Mueller
  • Monica S. Humby
  • Aaron Caccamise
  • Jennifer A. Martin
  • Karen C. Dietz, PhD

Other co-authors are:

  • Diane Damez-Werno, PhD, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York
  • Rachael L. Neve, PhD, of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology