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Chemical system in brain behaves differently in cocaine addicts, UT Southwestern scientists find
Date:8/10/2010

DALLAS Aug. 10, 2010 UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have identified a chemical system in the brain that reacts differently in cocaine addicts, findings that could result in new treatment options for individuals addicted to the drug.

"We found that the amount of blood flow in areas of the brain known to be involved in the rewarding effects of cocaine and craving was different in cocaine addicts, compared with healthy subjects," said Dr. Bryon Adinoff, professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and lead author of a study that appeared in Neuropsychopharmacology. "Now we have a new target for pharmacologic intervention."

The researchers studied changes in the brain's cholinergic system, which involves the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and its receptors, or docking points, on brain cells to which the chemical attaches. Disruption of this system has been implicated in Alzheimer's disease. In animal models of addiction, the neurotransmitter has been shown to affect how hard an animal will work to get a drug, but until now, the cholinergic system's relation to addiction in humans hadn't been explored.

For this study, researchers looked at how alterations in the cholinergic system affected the limbic region in the brain of cocaine-addicted subjects. The limbic region of the brain supports functions such as emotions, behavior, learning and long-term memory. It includes brain structures such as the hippocampus and amygdala.

Much addiction-related work has focused on other chemicals in the brain, particularly dopamine. Dopamine is associated with the "pleasure system" of the brain and is released by naturally rewarding experiences such as food, sex and the use of drugs like cocaine.

"Very few treatments affecting these other chemical systems have been effective at helping cure addiction," said Dr. Michael Devous, professor of radiology at UT Southwestern and an author of the paper. "We have discovered abn
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Contact: LaKisha Ladson
lakisha.ladson@utsouthwestern.edu
214-648-3404
UT Southwestern Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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