Study Suggests that Increasing Nerve Cell Growth Could Help Treat Drug Addiction

Posted on March 1st, 2010
Posted in Abused Drugs

A new study suggests that increasing the normally occurring process of making nerve cells, or neurogenesis, could help prevent drug addiction and relapse. Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center tested rats, demonstrating that blocking new growth of nerve cells in the brain increases the chances of developing addiction and relapsing. The study is the first to find a direct link between neurogenesis and addiction in the hippocampus region of the brain.

Although the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, focused on the blocking of neurogenesis, the results suggest that increasing neurogenesis could potentially prevent drug addiction and relapse.

Senior author Dr. Amelia Eisch, associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern, said that more research needs to be done to test their hypothesis that increasing neurogenesis with medication could prevent addiction before it begins as well as prevent relapse in people who are already addicted.

The researchers note that studies are recognizing that the hippocampus region of the brain, which is associated with learning and memory, seems to play a role in forming drug associations, such as environmental cues.

Dr. Eisch and colleagues used advanced radiation delivery techniques to block neurogenesis in the hippocampus region of the brains of rats. Rats could self-administer cocaine by pressing a lever, and the rats that were given radiation administered more cocaine and seemed to find it more rewarding than rats that didn’t receive radiation.

In a separate experiment, rats self-administered cocaine and were then given radiation to decrease neurogenesis during a period of abstinence. Rats with reduced neurogenesis took longer to discover that they could no longer receive drugs from the lever.

Dr. Eisch said the rats that didn’t receive radiation didn’t want cocaine as much as the rats that did receive radiation, and didn’t press the lever that used to administer drugs. This suggests that decreased neurogenesis speeds up the process of addiction.

She added that they plan to perform similar studies with other addictive drugs, using imaging technology to study neurogenesis in humans.

Source: Science Daily, Increasing Neurogenesis Might Prevent Drug Addiction and Relapse, February 27, 2010
 

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