Chapter 4. The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our mailing list, to receive news updates. Learn more.
Angus Chen A new method of delivering medication for opioid addicts gained approval from a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel this week. It's a matchstick-like insert designed to slip under the skin and release a drug over a period of months. Some physicians say the implant will be a useful addition to the currently short lineup of medication-assisted treatment options. The rod is called Probuphine, developed by the companies Braeburn Pharmaceuticals and Titan Pharmaceuticals. It contains a medication called buprenorphine which the FDA approved for opioid addiction in 2002 and is currently widely in use. The FDA typically follows the advice of its advisory panels on approvals. This molecule binds to opioid receptors in the body, but doesn't hit them as hard as something like heroin or morphine would. So it can reduce cravings without giving a full high. It's often taken in combination with a medication called naloxone, which negates the effect of any additional opiates and acts as an antidote for overdoses. Right now, patients must hold a tablet or a film under their tongue or in their cheek until it dissolves every day. This gives a long-lasting implant a few advantages over oral daily doses. Probuphine lasts up to six months. So unless patients want to dig underneath their skin to tear the thing out, there's no deviating from the treatment. "With the Suboxone [a daily combination of buprenorphine and naloxone], you can go on these drug holidays," says Patrick Kennedy, a former congressman and former opiate addict who urged the panel to approve Probuphine. "If I knew I had access to another drug, OxyContin, I would just stop taking the Suboxone and — you know." © 2016 npr
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21790 - Posted: 01.16.2016
By SABRINA TAVERNISE SILVER SPRING, Md. — A panel of medical experts recommended Tuesday that the Food and Drug Administration approve a new way of treating opioid addicts, using a slender rod implanted into the arm that delivers medicine for months at a time. Some doctors say it could help ease the national epidemic of drug overdoses. The rod is about the size of a small matchstick and delivers daily doses of buprenorphine — one of the most common medical treatments for opioid addicts — for six-month periods. In controlled doses, buprenorphine can help the body withdraw from opioid addiction, but can also itself be addictive. That risk is increased by the fact that the medicine can be taken only by mouth, requiring patients, often ill from addiction, to manage their daily dosages. The advisory panel voted 12 to 5 to recommend approval. The panel concluded that flaws in the evidence the company presented, including missing data in a clinical study, were not fatal, and that the product was roughly as effective as the oral form of the drug. They agreed it would be a useful tool for doctors in the face of a major public health epidemic and could help stem the flow of illicit use of buprenorphine. “I think this will save some folks’ lives,” said Dr. David Pickar, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School, who voted to recommend approval. “From a safety point of view I think we’re in good shape.” Dr. Thomas Grieger, a staff psychiatrist at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said: “There is not evidence of significant risk using this agent, but there is evidence of significant benefit.” © 2016 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21783 - Posted: 01.13.2016
When Jack O'Connor was 19, he was so desperate to beat his addictions to alcohol and opioids that he took a really rash step. He joined the Marines. "This will fix me," O'Connor thought as he went to boot camp. "It better fix me or I'm screwed." After 13 weeks of sobriety and exercise and discipline, O'Connor completed basic training, but he started using again immediately. "Same thing," he says. "Percocet, like, off the street. Pills." Percocet is the brand name for acetaminophen and oxycodone. Oxycodone is a powerful opioid. It's one of the most commonly prescribed painkillers, and is a key factor in one of the country's most pressing public health problems — an opioid addiction epidemic. It is a crisis that started, in part, from the over-prescription of painkillers, like Percocet, and then shifted to heroin, as people addicted to prescription drugs looked for a cheaper high. O'Connor is one of an estimated 2.5 million Americans addicted to opioids and heroin, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Over three years, he detoxed from prescription painkillers — and heroin — more than 20 times. Each time, he started using again. So why is it so hard for opioid addicts to quit? You can boil it down to two crucial bits of science: the powerful nature of opioids and the neuroscience behind how addiction hijacks the brain. "The first recording of opioid use was 5,000 years ago," says Dr. Seddon Savage, an addiction and pain specialist at Dartmouth College. It was "a picture of the opium poppy and the words 'the joy plant.' "
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21773 - Posted: 01.11.2016
By Veronique Greenwood Last year a new sleep drug called Belsomra came on the market, featuring a mechanism unlike any other pill: it mimics narcolepsy. That might sound odd, but the potential users are many. More than 8.5 million Americans take prescription sleep aids, and many others use snooze-inducing over-the-counter medications. All these pills, including Belsomra, do one of two things: they enhance the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA, known for quieting brain activity, or they arrest the actions of neurotransmitters that keep the brain aroused. Yet it's not quite as simple as flipping a switch; the drugs have a range of side effects, including daytime drowsiness, hallucinations and sleep-eating. Here's an overview of the sleeping pills currently available in the U.S.—plus a look at cognitive-behavior therapy for insomnia, which may be more successful than drugs alone. It requires a lot more work than popping a pill, but cognitive-behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) has been shown to successfully alleviate sleep problems. Aimed at developing healthy habits, CBT-I comes with a lot of homework—between weekly or so visits with a specialist, a patient keeps track of hours spent in bed and hours sleeping and uses the bed only for sleep and sex. The patient must stay up until an established bedtime and get up on awakening, generating a sleep deficit that makes it easier to fall asleep at the right time. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol after 4 P.M. and timing exercise so that it doesn't interfere with drowsiness are also part of the system. © 2016 Scientific American
Link ID: 21770 - Posted: 01.11.2016
By ALAN SCHWARZ DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Three shaky months into recovery from heroin addiction, Dariya Pankova found something to ease her withdrawal. A local nonalcoholic bar sold a brewed beverage that soothed her brain and body much as narcotics had. A perfect solution — before it backfired. Ms. Pankova grew addicted to the beverage itself. She drank more and more, awakened her cravings for the stronger high of heroin, and relapsed. Only during another stay in rehab did Ms. Pankova learn that the drink’s primary ingredient, a Southeast Asian leaf called kratom, affects the brain like an opiate and can be addictive, too. “It’s preying on the weak and the broken,” said Ms. Pankova, 23, a Brooklyn native who received treatment in Delray Beach. “It’s a mind-altering substance, so people like me who are addicts and alcoholics, they think just because it’s legal, it’s fine. It’s a huge epidemic down here, and it’s causing a lot of relapses.” Some users embrace kratom as a natural painkiller and benign substitute for more dangerous substances that, in most states, is legal. But its growing popularity and easy availability are raising concerns among substance abuse experts and government officials who say it is being furtively marketed as a way out of addiction, even though it is itself addictive. Worse, some of those experts say, kratom can lead some addicts back to heroin, which is cheaper and stronger. “It’s a fascinating drug, but we need to know a lot more about it,” said Dr. Edward W. Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a co-author of several scientific articles on kratom. “Recreationally or to self-treat opioid dependence, beware — potentially you’re at just as much risk” as with an opiate. Concern is particularly high in South Florida, where a rising concentration of drug-treatment providers has coincided with the sprouting of kratom bars. But kratom is now available around the country. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21747 - Posted: 01.04.2016
By Elizabeth Pennisi Imagine trying to train wild sea lions—without them ever seeing you. That was Peter Cook's challenge 8 years ago when he was trying to figure out whether poisonous algae were irrevocably damaging the animals’ brains. With a lot of patience and some luck, the comparative neuroscientist from Emory University in Atlanta has succeeded, and the news isn't good. Toxins from the algae mangle a key memory center, likely making it difficult for sick animals to hunt or navigate effectively, Cook and his colleagues report today. "Sea lions can be seen as sentinels of human health," says Kathi Lefebvre, a research biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington, who was not involved with the work. As oceans warm, toxic algae proliferate and cause so-called red tides because the water looks reddish. So "understanding these toxins in wild animals is going to become more important," she says. Red tides are produced by algae called diatoms. They make a toxin called domoic acid, which is consumed by other plankton that in turn become food for fish and other organisms. Predators such as anchovies, sardines, and other schooling fish accumulate this toxin in their bodies. So when algal populations explode, say, because of warming water, domoic acid concentrations increase in these animals to a point that they affect the sea lions that feast on them. Scientists first recognized this problem in 1998, after hundreds of sea lions were found stranded or disoriented along California's coast. Since then, researchers have studied sick and dead sea lions and documented that the toxin causes seizures and damages the brain, sometimes killing the animal. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By Karen Weintraub Is sleep induced by a benzodiazepine counted as restorative sleep? Researchers hate to admit it, but they don’t know enough about sleep to answer this question. Their best guess, several experts said, is that sleep is sleep. Dr. John Weyl Winkelman, a sleep disorders expert at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said if a patient asked him whether medicated sleep was restorative, “I’d say: ‘You tell me.’” There is quite a bit of evidence about the negative health consequences of insomnia, but researchers don’t know precisely what it is in the brain and body that is "restored" by sleep to aid optimal function. And it is unlikely that any specific stage of sleep is uniquely restorative, said Dr. Daniel J. Buysse, a sleep medicine expert and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. More sleep, less interrupted sleep, and sleep at the right time of night are all likely to be important, he said. There are two types of sleep: REM, when people dream, and non-REM, which has light, medium and deep portions. Sleeping pills mainly increase the amount of medium-depth non-REM sleep, Dr. Buysse said. Medications can help people fall asleep faster and reduce nighttime wakefulness, he said, and those changes are usually considered to contribute to restorative sleep. But different people respond differently. “Do you feel more rested, more alert, more able to concentrate, less irritable on medication versus off?" Dr. Buysse said. "If all those things are true then I would say it’s more restorative. If a hypnotic drug leaves you feeling hung over or more anxious, if it causes you to order five hickory smoked turkeys on the Internet without remembering, then it’s probably not good.” © 2015 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 21691 - Posted: 12.12.2015
Angus Chen Parents of children with severe epilepsy have reported incredible recoveries when their children were given cannabidiol, a derivative of marijuana. The drug, a non-psychoactive compound that occurs naturally in cannabis, has been marketed with epithets like Charlotte's Web and Haleigh's Hope. But those parents were taking a risk; there has been no clinical data on cannabidiol's safety of efficacy as an anti-epileptic. This week, doctors are presenting the first studies trying to figure out if cannabidiol actually works. They say the studies' results are promising, but with a grain of salt. The largest study being presented at the American Epilepsy Society meeting in Philadelphia this week was started in 2014 with 313 children from 16 different epilepsy centers around the country. Over the course of the three-month trial, 16 percent of the participants withdrew because the cannabidiol was either ineffective or had adverse side-effects, says Dr. Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at the New York University Langone Medical Center and lead author on the study. But for the 261 patients that continued taking cannabidiol, the number of convulsive seizures, called grand mal or tonic-clonic seizures, went down by about half on average. Devinsky says that some children continued to experience benefits on cannabidiol after the trial ended. "In the subsequent periods, which are very encouraging, 9 percent of all patients and 13 percent of those with Dravet Syndrome epilepsy were seizure-free. Many have never been seizure-free before," he says. It's one of several [at least four. checking] papers on cannabidiol being presented this week at the American Epilepsy Society meeting in Philadelphia. © 2015 npr
Laura Sanders People who use especially potent pot show signs of damage in a key part of their brain. The results, reported online November 27 in Psychological Medicine, are limited, though: The small brain scanning study doesn’t show that marijuana caused the brain abnormality — only that the two go hand-in-hand. But the findings suggest that potency matters, says study coauthor Tiago Reis Marques, a psychiatrist at King’s College London. “We are no longer talking about smoking cannabis or not smoking cannabis,” Reis Marques says. Just as vodka packs more of a punch than beer, a high-potency toke delivers much more of the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. A bigger dose of THC may have stronger effects on the brain, Reis Marques says. That’s important because as marijuana plant breeders perfect their products, THC levels have soared. Samples sold in Colorado, for instance, now have about three times as much THC as plants grown 30 years ago, a recent survey found (SN Online: 3/24/15). Reis Marques and his colleagues scanned the brains of 43 healthy people, about half of whom use cannabis. The researchers used a method called diffusion tensor imaging to study the structure of the brain’s white matter, neural highways that carry messages between brain areas. Participants gave a detailed history of their past drug use, including information about how potent their marijuana was. POT HEAD The corpus callosum — white matter that links the left brain to the right — is weaker in people who smoke high-potency cannabis, a new study suggests. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.
Some people may have a get-out clause when it comes to giving up cigarettes. A third of white people who smoke have gene variations that make it harder for them to kick the habit. A gene called ANKK1 regulates the release of dopamine – a chemical involved in the brain’s reward centres. Ming Li and colleagues at the Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China, wondered whether variations of this gene might affect people’s ability to give up cigarettes. So his team analysed 23 studies that have linked ANKK1 to smoking, involving more than 11,000 participants in total. Across the board, there was no significant link between successful quitting and the gene variants. But when they looked at just the studies that analysed white people, the results were striking. About two-thirds of white smokers carried a variation of the gene called A2/A2. These people were about 22 per cent more likely to be able to quit smoking than those who carried an alternative version of the gene, either A1/A1 or A1/A2. The A1/A1 and A1/A2 gene variations have previously been linked to obesity and drug addiction, which suggests they may predispose people to addictive behaviours. People carrying these versions of ANKK1 may need more aggressive strategies to fight their addiction to cigarettes, says Li. It is not clear whether the gene has the same effect for non-white people, he says. More studies that involve non-white people will be necessary to investigate this. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Ian Sample Science editor High-strength cannabis may damage nerve fibres that handle the flow of messages across the two halves of the brain, scientists claim. Brain scans of people who regularly smoked strong skunk-like cannabis revealed subtle differences in the white matter that connects the left and right hemispheres and carries signals from one side of the brain to the other. The changes were not seen in those who never used cannabis or smoked only the less potent forms of the drug, the researchers found. The study is thought to be the first to look at the effects of cannabis potency on brain structure, and suggests that greater use of skunk may cause more damage to the corpus callosum, making communications across the brain’s hemispheres less efficient. Paola Dazzan, a neurobiologist at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said the effects appeared to be linked to the level of active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in cannabis. While traditional forms of cannabis contain 2 to 4 % THC, the more potent varieties (of which there are about 100), can contain 10 to 14% THC, according to the DrugScope charity. “If you look at the corpus callosum, what we’re seeing is a significant difference in the white matter between those who use high potency cannabis and those who never use the drug, or use the low-potency drug,” said Dazzan. The corpus callosum is rich in cannabinoid receptors, on which the THC chemical acts. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
By Lenny Bernstein BALTIMORE — Deep into a three-day heroin binge at a local hotel, Samantha told the newbie he was shooting too much. He wasn’t accustomed to heroin, she said, and hadn’t waited long enough since his last injection. “But he didn’t listen,” she said. Sure enough, he emerged from a visit to the bathroom, eyes glazed, and collapsed from an overdose. Samantha, who declined to give her last name to avoid trouble with her bosses at a nearby strip club, said she grabbed her naloxone, the fast-acting antidote to opioid overdoses. She was too panicked to place the atomizer on the end of the syringe, but her boyfriend wasn’t. He sprayed the mist into the nose of the unconscious drug user, who awoke minutes later. “I always have it because I’m scared to death,” said Samantha, who said she has been shooting heroin for 22 years. “I don’t want to be helpless.” As the opioid epidemic has exploded in small towns and suburbs in recent years, officials have scrambled to put naloxone in the hands of drug users’ families and friends, and to make it more widely available by equipping police officers with the drug. At the same time, thousands of lives are being saved by giving the antidote to drug users. More than 80 percent of overdose victims revived by “laypeople” were rescued by other users, most of them in the past few years, according to one national survey published in June.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21654 - Posted: 11.24.2015
by Bethany Brookshire Many people perceive cocaine as one of the most intense stimulant drugs available: It’s illegal, highly addictive and dangerous. Caffeine, in contrast, is the kinder, cuddlier stimulant. It’s legal, has mild effects and in forms such as coffee, it might even be good for your health. But caffeine in combination with cocaine is another story. In South America, drug distributors have started “cutting” their cocaine with caffeine. This cheaper substitute might, at first glance, seem to make the cocaine less potent. After all, there’s less of the drug there. But new data shows that when combined, cocaine and caffeine make a heck of a drug. Coca paste is a popular form of cocaine in South American countries. A smoked form of cocaine, coca paste is the intermediate product in the extraction process used to get pure cocaine out of coca leaves. Because it is smoked, the cocaine in the coca paste hits the brain very quickly, making the drug highly addictive, explains Jose Prieto, a neurochemist at the Biological Research Institute Clemente Stable in Montevideo, Uruguay. Much of the time, Coca paste isn’t acting alone, however. In a 2011 study published in Behavioral Brain Research, Prieto and his colleagues examined the contents of coca paste from police seizures. “Nearly 80 percent of the coca paste samples” were adulterated, Prieto says, “most with caffeine.” Caffeine adulteration ranged from 1 to 15 percent of the drug volume. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21643 - Posted: 11.18.2015
by Teresa Shipley Feldhausen The benefits of drinking coffee continue to filter in. An analysis of more than 200,000 medical professionals followed for nearly 30 years finds that drinking up to five cups of coffee a day is associated with reduced risk of dying early from heart and brain diseases as well as suicide. The study’s results were adjusted for factors like smoking, weight and diet. Benefits were more pronounced for those who had never smoked, an international team of researchers report November 16 in Circulation. Both caffeinated and decaf java had positive effects, leading the researchers to speculate that coffee’s potency as a health elixir may stem from chemical compounds in the bean such as diterpenes and chlorogenic acids. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015.
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21634 - Posted: 11.17.2015
For the first time, the barrier that protects the brain has been opened without damaging it, to deliver chemotherapy drugs to a tumour. The breakthrough could be used to treat pernicious brain diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, by allowing drugs to pass into the brain. The blood-brain barrier keeps toxins in the bloodstream away from the brain. It consists of a tightly packed layer of endothelial cells that wrap around every blood vessel throughout the brain. It prevents the passage of viruses, bacteria and other toxins, while ushering in vital molecules such as glucose via specialised transport mechanisms. The downside of this is that the blood-brain barrier also blocks the vast majority of drugs. There are a few exceptions, but those drugs that are able to sneak through can also penetrate every cell in the body, which makes for major side effects. Now researchers at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Canada, say they have successfully used ultrasound to temporarily open the blood-brain barrier, with the ultimate aim of treating a brain tumour. The procedure took place on 4 November. Ultrasound prises open brain's protective barrier for first time The team, led by neurosurgeon Todd Mainprize and physicist Kullervo Hynynen, injected the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin along with tiny gas-filled microbubbles, into the blood of a patient with a brain tumour. The microbubbles and the drug spread throughout their body, including into the blood vessels that serve the brain. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
by Bethany Brookshire Cheese is a delicious invention. But if you saw the news last week, you might think it’s on its way to being classified as a Schedule II drug. Headlines proclaimed “Say cheese? All the time? Maybe you have an addiction,” “Cheese really is crack” and “Your cheese addiction is real.” Under the headlines, the stories referred to a study examining the addictive properties of various foods. Pizza was at the top. The reason? The addictive properties of cheese, which the articles claim contains “dangerous” opiate-like chemicals called casomorphins. But you can’t explain away your affinity for cheese by saying you’re addicted. The study in those stories, published earlier this year in PLOS ONE, did investigate which foods are most associated with addictive-like eating behaviors. Pizza did come out on top in one experiment. But the scientists who did the research say this has little to do with the delicious dairy products involved. Instead, they argue, the foods we crave the most are those processed to have high levels of sugars and fat, and it’s these ingredients that leave us coming back for another slice. The cheese? “I was horrified by the misstatements and the oversimplifications … and the statements about how it’s an excuse to overeat,” says Ashley Gearhardt of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who led the study. “Liking is not the same as addiction. We like lots of things. I like hip-hop music and sunshine and my wiener dog, but I’m not addicted to her. I eat cheese every day. That’s doesn’t mean you’re addicted or it has addictive potential.” © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2015
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21592 - Posted: 11.02.2015
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE NEWTON, N.H. — When Courtney Griffin was using heroin, she lied, disappeared, and stole from her parents to support her $400-a-day habit. Her family paid her debts, never filed a police report and kept her addiction secret — until she was found dead last year of an overdose. At Courtney’s funeral, they decided to acknowledge the reality that redefined their lives: Their bright, beautiful daughter, just 20, who played the French horn in high school and dreamed of living in Hawaii, had been kicked out of the Marines for drugs. Eventually, she overdosed at her boyfriend’s grandmother’s house, where she died alone. “When I was a kid, junkies were the worst,” Doug Griffin, 63, Courtney’s father, recalled in their comfortable home here in southeastern New Hampshire. “I used to have an office in New York City. I saw them.” When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white. And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin — many of them in the suburbs and small towns — are now using their influence, anger and grief to cushion the country’s approach to drugs, from altering the language around addiction to prodding government to treat it not as a crime, but as a disease. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21583 - Posted: 10.31.2015
By Dina Fine Maron When powerful street drugs collectively known as synthetic pot are smoked, the resulting high mimics the effects of marijuana. Yet these man-made cannabinoids are not marijuana at all. The drugs, more commonly called spice, fake weed or K2, are made up of any number of dried, shredded plants sprayed with chemicals that live in a murky legality zone. They are highly dangerous—and their use is on the rise. Synthetic pot, which first hit the market in the early 2000s, has especially caught the attention of public health officials in the past couple of years, stemming from a surge in hospitalizations and violent episodes. Although the drugs act on the same brain pathway as weed's active ingredient, they can trigger harsher reactions, including heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage and delusions. Between June and early August usage of these drugs led to roughly 2,300 emergency room visits in New York State alone. Nationwide more than 6,000 incidents involving spice have been reported to U.S. poison-control centers this year—about double the number of calls in 2013. Ever changing recipes make it possible for spice sellers to elude the authorities. Each time an ingredient is banned, producers swap in another compound. The drugs are then sold on the Internet or at gas stations and convenience stores at prices lower than genuine marijuana. The changing formulations also pose a challenge for researchers trying to match the chemicals with their side effects or to develop tests to identify them in a user's system. “The drugs are present in blood for only a short period, so it's very difficult to detect them,” says Marilyn Huestis, chief of the Chemistry and Drug Metabolism Section at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. © 2015 Scientific American
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21570 - Posted: 10.27.2015
By R. Douglas Fields “Why can’t you stop drinking?” This week at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago, researchers from the University of Chicago announced a new finding that provides a fresh answer to this persistent question that plagues people addicted to alcohol. The discovery offers an entirely new approach to treatment. Neuroscientist, Amy Lasek, at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and colleagues, report that after binge drinking, neurons in brain circuits responsible for alcohol addiction become encased in a protein material, called a perineuronal net. The impenetrable coating cements neurons involved in alcohol addiction into a circuit that is extremely difficult to break. Current drugs for treating alcohol dependence work by modifying neurotransmitter signaling between neurons, but for many people these treatments cannot break the overwhelming compulsion to drink. Drugs that can break down the glue-like cement in perineuronal nets could offer a new approach to treatment. Lasek’s unusual approach into addiction research stems from her background as a molecular and cell biologist working in the field of cancer research. The root of cancer is changes in specific genes. Small molecules designed to target these aberrant genes is the approach used in cancer therapy. Lasek’s background made her think of finding molecularly targeted therapies for psychiatric disorders. Lasek and her colleagues began by studying fruit flies to search for gene variations that altered the fly’s behavior toward alcohol. She found several genes that had this effect, including an obscure one called ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase). Then she suppressed these genes in mice to see if the animal’s response to alcohol was altered. “I got hooked,” she says, “because to me the fact that you can manipulate a single gene in a single brain region and change behavior—like drinking or cocaine reward—was fascinating from a biological point of view!” © 2015 Scientific America
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21561 - Posted: 10.24.2015
Olivia Maynard It has been described as a ‘disruptive technology’ potentially capable of breaking our fatal relationship with tobacco. So the setting for a public debate on e-cigarettes - a museum part-funded by the tobacco industry, in a city home to the global headquarters of one of the largest tobacco manufacturers - was perhaps ironic. Yet on Wednesday evening, I found myself at the M-Shed in Bristol, watching just that: a debate about whether e-cigarettes could be part of the solution to the tobacco epidemic. To mark the launch of a new Integrative Cancer Epidemiology Programme, linked to the Medical Research Centre Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, Professor Marcus Munafò (Professor of Biological Psychology at the University of Bristol) and Professor Linda Bauld (Professor of Health Policy at the University of Stirling), both collaborators of mine, discussed e-cigarettes. Professor Gabriel Scally (Public Health Doctor and former Regional Director of Public Health for the South West of England) chaired the discussion. Billed as a debate about whether e-cigarettes might be ‘the key to reducing smoking’, some in the audience may have expected a heated discussion. However, with this line-up of academics, influential in the fields of public health, tobacco and addiction, the discussion was evidence-based and measured. As for the motion of the debate, the panel was unanimous: e-cigarettes may not be the key to reducing smoking, but they are certainly an important part of the solution. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 21556 - Posted: 10.24.2015