Scientists Discover Potential Brain Pathway for Drug Addiction

Proper treatments for drug addictions face an ongoing battle in fighting against a patient’s lack of willpower, lack of motivation and even self-destructive tendencies. Now, research just announced by Chemical & Engineering News indicates that a peptide produced in the brain might provide the answer. A natural appetite stimulant, the peptide is a melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) that is found as a receptor, MCH1R, in large amounts in the brain. The region that this receptor occupies also helps to control the behaviors associated with reward and motivation. Due to this similarity, Olivier Civelli of the University of California, Irvine, made the assumption that MCH and its receptor might play a part in addiction. The challenge in the past with trying to tackle this element of addiction is that treatments attacked biological pathways that were central to other behaviors beyond addiction. Civelli’s team discovered in previous work that a small molecule from a chemical library could block binding of MCH to its receptor. In laboratory tests on mice and rats, the compound was shown to help control addictive behavior. Injections of the molecule into the brain of the test animals resulted in reduced cocaine use and relapse. The challenge here is that this particular molecule does not cross the blood-barrier and therefore cannot be used in humans. However, further development of MCHiR blockers – mainly for weight-loss applications – could be tested for treating cocaine and other addictions. There is not yet enough vigorous research into the potential of MCH blockage, but the results of this study are promising. According to Sara J. Ward who studies the impact of certain drugs at Temple University, Civelli’s research is significant as MCH blockage may offer more subtle effects and could be promising for drug addiction treatment, especially if its effects on appetite are not significant.

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