November 2011 New studies show that microRNAs, snippets of RNA implicated in a wide variety of biological processes, are involved in promoting and inhibiting cocaine addiction. The findings could pave a new path for the development of anti-addiction therapies.
A brain response occurs in the nucleus accumbens when rats encounter a cue that they associate with previous cocaine self-administration, but not a cue associated with a pleasurable non-drug experience. Moreover, the response correlates in time and intensity with the animals’ cue-induced relapse to cocaine-seeking.
Nicotine sensitizes the mouse brain to the addictive effects of cocaine, according to recent NIDA-supported research. The results accord with the hypothesis that a person’s initial use of an addictive substance physiologically sensitizes his or her brain to the rewarding and addictive effects of other substances. If the findings carry over to people, then preventing youths from smoking might reduce their vulnerability to cocaine abuse and addiction, and cocaine-dependent individuals might ease their path to recovery by quitting smoking.
April 2010 Describes an animal study reporting that peer interaction enhances adolescent rats’ drug reward and discusses the impact of these findings to future research on drug reward in social context.
Researchers have shut down laboratory rats’ compulsive cocaine seeking by stimulating an area of the animals’ prefrontal cortex. The finding raises the possibility that stimulating neurons in this brain area may weaken or break cocaine’s grip on the behavior of people who are addicted to the drug.
Prenatal drug exposure can have behavioral effects that last well into adulthood, according to two studies of adult monkeys prenatally exposed to cocaine. In the first study, drug-exposed monkeys exhibited less flexibility than controls in adjusting to changing circumstances; in the second study, drug-exposed males exhibited a greater preference than controls for having rewards right away, a sign of impulsivity.