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Scripps Research scientists uncover previously unknown natural mechanism that controls cocaine use
Date:7/7/2010

JUPITER, FL, July 6, 2010 Embargoed by the journal Nature until July 7, 2010, 1 PM, Eastern time Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have found that a particular type of genetic material plays a key role in determining vulnerability to cocaine addiction and may offer an entirely new direction for the development of anti-addiction therapies. In animal studies, the scientists found that a molecule called microRNA-212 was increased in the brains of test animals that had extended access to cocaine. MicroRNA-212 controlled how much cocaine the animals consumed.

The study was published on July 8, 2010, in an advance, online edition of the prestigious journal Nature.

"The key question that the study may answer is why one person is more vulnerable to the effects of cocaine than another," said team leader Paul Kenny, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Therapeutics at Scripps Florida. "What we found is that a specific microRNA exerts enormous control over the response to the drug. When it is increased in the brain, it protects against addictive behavior, while a reduction raises vulnerability to addictive behaviors. The practical outcome of increased microRNA-212 expression is that it slams the brakes on any desire to take the drug."

MicroRNA-212 is a type of small non-protein coding RNA that can regulate the expression levels of hundreds or even thousands of genes. As such, microRNA-212 and other types of microRNAs are considered "master regulators" of gene expression. Because of their ability to coordinate the expression of related genes responsible for brain structure and function, it is thought that microRNAs might play important roles in complex psychiatric disorders, but little has been known about their involvement in addictionuntil now.

What the new findings suggest, Kenny said, is that individuals with serious addiction problems may have damaged supplies of this particular non-
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Contact: Mika Ono
mikaonomail@scripps.edu
858-784-2052
Scripps Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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