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Studies: Addiction starts with an overcorrection in the brain
Date:7/1/2014

The National Institutes of Health has turned to neuroscientists at the nation's most "Stone Cold Sober" university for help finding ways to treat drug and alcohol addiction.

Brigham Young University professor Scott Steffensen and his collaborators have published three new scientific papers that detail the brain mechanisms involved with addictive substances. And the NIH thinks Steffensen's on the right track, as evidenced by a $2-million grant that will help fund projects in his BYU lab for the next five years.

"Addiction is a brain disease that could be treated like any other disease," Steffensen said. "I wouldn't be as motivated to do this research, or as passionate about the work, if I didn't think a cure was possible."

Steffensen's research suggests that the process of a brain becoming addicted is similar to a driver overcorrecting a vehicle. When drugs and alcohol release unnaturally high levels of dopamine in the brain's pleasure system, oxidative stress occurs in the brain.

Steffensen and his collaborators have found that the brain responds by generating a protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). This correction suppresses the brain's normal production of dopamine long after someone comes down from a high. Not having enough dopamine is what causes the pains, distress and anxiety of withdrawal.

"The body attempts to compensate for unnatural levels of dopamine, but a pathological process occurs," Steffensen said. "We think it all centers around a subset of neurons that ordinarily put the brakes on dopamine release."

A group of undergraduate students work in Steffensen's lab along with post-doctoral fellows and graduate students. Jennifer Blanchard Mabey, a graduate student in neuroscience, co-authored a paper about withdrawal that is in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

"It's rewarding to see that your research efforts place another small piece in the eno
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Contact: Joe Hadfield
joe_hadfield@byu.edu
801-422-9206
Brigham Young University
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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