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UTMB wins $3.4 million federal grant to study addiction-recovery drugs
Date:2/7/2008

GALVESTON, Texas -- The National Institute on Drug Abuse has awarded University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers a four-year, $3.4 million grant to develop what may become the first effective drugs to help people conquer cocaine addiction.

The researchers believe this ambitious program may ultimately benefit compulsive overeaters as well.

Led by the director of UTMB's Center for Addiction Research, Kathryn A. Cunningham, the effort centers on components of the brain's electrochemical signaling system that laboratory research suggests are crucially linked to success or failure in recovering from cocaine addiction. The scientists will focus on two types of molecules on the surfaces of nerve cells in the brain that respond to serotonin, a chemical that carries messages across the tiny gaps between the cells. Stimulation of these "receptor" molecules prompts a nerve cell to generate an electrical pulse that travels from one end of the nerve to the other, where the signal launches still more chemical messengers to be picked up by receptors on other nerve cells.

UTMB scientists have discovered that chemicals that increase the activity of one of the two kinds of serotonin receptors under study -- designated the 5-HT2C receptor -- dramatically reduce cocaine-induced behavior in rats, including the animals' tendency to press a lever to dose themselves intravenously with the drug.

Chemicals that block the activity of the other serotonin receptor, called the 5-HT2A receptor, suppress a characteristic seen in humans with a history of addiction: the sudden craving for a drug long associated with certain stimuli, like the desire for a cigarette some smokers get when having a drink in a bar.

In the laboratory, scientists have found that when rats were trained to associate lights and sound with pressing a lever to self-administer cocaine and then denied the drug for a time, they "relapsed" by pressing the lever
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Contact: Jim Kelly
jpkelly@utmb.edu
409-772-8791
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
Source:Eurekalert

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