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

coding RNA, or the microRNA may not function properly.

"Looking into the future," he said, "It might be possible to develop a small molecule therapeutic that mimics or stimulates the production of this particular microRNA. Once we understand the precise mechanism, we might uncover novel targets that would have a similar effect to acting on the microRNA directly."

A Molecule that Puts the Brakes on Cocaine Consumption

According to the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 1.6 million Americans' behavior met the criteria for cocaine abuse.

Cocaine triggers a constellation of brain reward systems, and cocaine addiction is commonly viewed as a disorder of neuroplasticity the brain's ability to continually produce new neural connections in response to changes such as injury or disease. Long-lasting structural and functional modifications induced by cocaine are thought to increase sensitivity to the motivational effects of the drug, which in turn results in an eventual loss of control over intake.

In the study, the scientists set out to see how the brain changes in rats with extended or limited exposure to the drug using a model of compulsive drug-taking developed by Scripps Research scientist George Koob. The rats with extended access are those most likely to develop compulsive-like drug-seeking behaviors.

The scientists allowed one group six hours of extended access to cocaine each day, compared to control groups, which were given limited exposure to the drug one hour or none on a daily basis. In the extended-access group, microRNA-212 was increased nearly two fold in the dorsal striatum (a key brain region regulating the development of habit formation) compared to the brains of control rats.

The animals with increased microRNA-212 expression were progressively less motivated to consume cocaine as their exposure to the drug increased.

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Contact: Mika Ono
mikaonomail@scripps.edu
858-784-2052
Scripps Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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