Scientists Discover Natural Protein that Acts as Addictive Drug

Ever wondered if it’s possible to become addicted to drugs without actually being on drugs? Well, it is! Researchers have found a naturally occurring protein that makes rats addicted without giving them any drugs. These findings could reveal a mechanism that underlies drug addiction.

A team of researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of Toronto found that a single injection of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) made rats behave as though they were dependent on opiates, which they never received. This was obvious because they left their comfort zone in order to seek out more of the protein. Previous research has noted that chronic drug users experience an increase of the BDNF protein in the brain’s reward circuitry.

The researchers confirmed that the BDNF protein is a critical regulator of drug dependency. After the injection, chemicals that normally inhibit neurons in the reward areas of the brain instead excited them, a “switch” that is flipped when people are dependent on drugs.

"If we can understand how the brain's circuitry changes in association with drug abuse, it could potentially suggest ways to medically counteract the effects of dependency," said Scott Steffensen, a neuroscientist at Brigham Young University who co-authored the study. Steffensen says this work suggests than BDNF is crucial for inducing a drug-dependent state, which is an important aspect of drug addiction.

Posted on May 28th, 2009

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