Published August 27, 2015 This content is archived.
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
Other co-authors are: