17 January 2018

A shot in the brain will protect you from cocaine addiction

Scientists from the USA are close to creating a vaccine against cocaine addiction

RIA News

Cocaine addiction develops due to an unusual protein that produces one of the types of immune cells living in the brain, and its suppression can relieve a person from craving for the drug, narcologists say in an article published in the journal Nature Communications (Calipari et al., Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor controls neural and behavioral plasticity in response to cocaine).

"This discovery is interesting for the reason that today we do not have any ways to combat cocaine addiction, except psychotherapy. There are already drugs on the market that suppress the work of the G-CSF enzyme, and we can quickly adapt them to fight cocaine when we understand exactly how this protein works," said Drew Kiraly from the Friedman Institute for Brain Research in New York (USA).

Regular use of cocaine causes severe psychological dependence and leads to exhaustion of the body, which often ends in death. The absence of pronounced signs of physiological dependence greatly complicates the treatment of cocaine addiction.

In recent years, narcologists and molecular biologists have repeatedly tried to create various drugs and even viruses that suppress cocaine addiction or "incite" the immune system against drug molecules. To date, none of them has been officially approved by the supervisory authorities, and most of them have been tested only in animal experiments. Only two years ago, the first clinical trials of one of these substances began.

All these problems, as Kirali notes, were connected with one simple thing – scientists until now did not know exactly how cocaine changes the work of the pleasure center and other regions of the brain, and what signaling substances and receptors of nerve cells are responsible for reading its molecules.

American narcologists were able to find the answer to this question by drawing attention to one common feature of all cocaine addicts – their immune system works somewhat differently than in people who do not take this substance. This led them to the idea that psychological dependence can be associated not only with changes in the work of the brain, but also the whole organism as a whole.

They tested this idea by comparing blood samples extracted from the bodies of mice, some of which suffered from cocaine addiction, while others had never touched the drug. As it turned out, all drug–addicted rodents had one thing in common - their blood contained an unusually high amount of G-CSF protein.

This peptide, as noted by narcologists, is produced not by brain neurons, but by macrophages and other components of immunity. It performs two different roles – it stimulates the bone marrow and causes it to produce granulocytes, another type of immune cells, and also protects neurons from the effects of strokes and ischemia. The latter, as Kirali and his colleagues suggest, may be directly related to the development of addiction.

Having discovered this unusual feature, the scientists tested what would happen if large amounts of G-CSF were injected into the anterior cortex and the nucleus accumbens, the two main "centers of cocaine addiction" in the heads of both mice and humans. As this experiment showed, such "therapy" forced the mice to use even more of the drug, which confirmed that this protein plays a key role in the development of addiction and cravings for cocaine.

On the other hand, when scientists injected an antibody into their brains that neutralized the G-CSF molecules, the mice began to use noticeably less of the drug, which suggests that blocking this enzyme can help people give up cocaine. To do this, however, scientists will need to find a way to deliver antibodies to G-CSF to the cortex and nucleus accumbens, which so far can only be done with direct injections into the brain.

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