MicroRNAs May Protect Against Cocaine Addiction

Posted on July 7th, 2010
Posted in Cocaine

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules are known to play important roles in the translation of genetic information into proteins. Over the last ten years, researchers have started noticing a population of small RNAs—called microRNAs—that represent a new class of molecules.

In a new study, Jonathan A. Hollander and colleagues found that cocaine use increased levels of a specific microRNA sequence (called microRNA-212) in the brains of rats. As the levels increased, the rats started becoming less interested in cocaine. As levels decreased, the rats consumed more cocaine and exhibited signs of addiction. This could be a very important implication for humans, as current data show that 15 percent of people who use cocaine become addicted.

The study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), was published in the journal Nature. The findings suggest that microRNA-212 plays an important role in regulating cocaine consumption in rats, and possibly in vulnerability to addiction. The same microRNA-212 is also expressed in humans’ dorsal striatum, a region of the brain that is associated with habit formation and drug abuse.

Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA director, said that this study enhances understanding of how brain mechanisms may contribute to resistance or vulnerability to addiction. She added that the research provides a strong example of how basic scientific research is critical to developing new addiction treatments and prevention targets.

Paul J. Kenny, senior author of the study and an associate professor at the Scripps research facility, said the results of the study may help researchers develop a completely new class of addiction treatment medications, as researchers may be able to manipulate the levels of microRNA-212 therapeutically.

Source: The National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH-Supported Finding on Cocaine Addiction: Tiny Molecule, Big Promise, July 7, 2010

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