Cocaine remains one of the most abused drugs in the United States with nearly 1.5 million Americans using it in 2014, as per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The effects of cocaine are felt almost immediately that range from acute bouts of depression, to feelings of edginess and constant cravings for the drug. It is not easy to get rid of cocaine addiction and timely intervention is an important step in the treatment procedure.
To fight cocaine addiction, scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) unearthed a compound that can counter the symptoms of cocaine dependency in rodents. The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience in August 2016, said that the working of the compound involved interrupting the working of certain brain cell receptors.
The study, titled “Systemic Delivery of a Brain-Penetrant TrkB Antagonist Reduces Cocaine Self-Administration and Normalizes TrkB Signaling in the Nucleus Accumbens and Prefrontal Cortex,” is based on findings of previous researches which indicated that targeting TrkB receptor gave results that differed in accordance with the brain region involved.
In the latest study, the scientists tried to test the system-wide delivery of a TrkB-blocker, thus, revealing that the overall impact is to reverse feelings of cocaine addiction. Elucidating the objective of the research, senior author of the study Candice Contet, a TSRI biologist, said, “I think this study could help revive the idea of targeting TrkB signaling to treat addiction.”
The researchers analyzed the overall impact of plugging TrkB signaling by making use of a recently developed TrkB-receptor blocker, or “antagonist.” This blocker can get into the brain after being introduced in the bloodstream. It was found that the laboratory rodents had been trained to infuse cocaine in themselves by pressing a lever. The TrkB blocker managed to diminish the rate of cocaine use and addiction manifestations.
The rats showed less dependency on cocaine when the dosage of the TrkB blocker was increased. The scientists observed that the rats treated with TrkB-receptor blocker took decreased amounts of cocaine and showed less willingness to press the lever multiple times to gain access to cocaine. Also, the rats exhibited less likelihood of relapse when exposed to cocaine again after a withdrawal phase.
Stressing on the findings of the study, Contet added, “We suspect that the antagonist has its primary action in the nucleus accumbens, where it’s logical that it would prevent the activation that is triggered by cocaine. While what happens in the prefrontal cortex is probably a downstream consequence, rather than a direct effect of the TrkB antagonist in that region.”
While testing if the TrkB-blocker acts on the appetite levels of the rats, it was found that the treatment had no effect on the rats’ appetite. The scientists realized the same as they found no difference in the rats’ craving for glucose-saccharine solution which is sweet in taste. Contet said, “That’s good because it shows that the TrkB antagonist doesn’t work by causing a general suppression of appetite or activity, but specifically reduces the sense of reward and motivation for cocaine.”
Abuse and overdose of cocaine lead to thousands of emergency visits in the country every year, thus, resulting in a heavy burden on the country’s economy. With so many people checking into rehabilitation centers each year to rid themselves of cocaine addiction, it became imperative for scientists to look for innovative methods that could treat people of drug addiction. The discovery of a new technique to curb addiction is an important step in this direction.
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