Researchers find new way to fight cocaine addiction

April 1, 2009

UC Irvine pharmacological researchers have discovered that blocking a hormone related to hunger regulation can limit cocaine cravings. Their findings could herald a new approach to overcoming addiction.

Led by Shinjae Chung and Olivier Civelli, the study identified how the melanin-concentrating hormone works with dopamine in the brain's "pleasure center" to create an addictive response to cocaine use. The researchers further found that blocking MCH in these brain cells limited cocaine cravings.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter essential to the normal functioning of the central nervous system. It also is associated with feelings of pleasure and is released in the brain during eating, sex and drug use. Heightened levels of the neurotransmitter have been detected in the nucleus accumbens of drug addicts.

The study is the first to detail the interaction of MCH and dopamine in cocaine addiction and show that it occurs in the nucleus accumbens, a portion of the forebrain believed to play an important role in addiction and feelings of pleasure and fear. Study results appear in this week's early online edition of the .

"This discovery indicates that MCH is a key regulator of dopamine in a brain area associated with both pleasure and addiction," says Civelli, the Eric L. and Lila D. Nelson Professor of Neuropharmacology. "We believe that efforts to target MCH may lead to new treatments to break addiction to cocaine and, possibly, other drugs, like amphetamines and nicotine."

In mammals, MCH is involved with the regulation of feeding behavior and energy balance. High levels of the hormone can intensify feelings of hunger, and researchers worldwide have been seeking compounds to lower MCH for potential use in the treatment of .

Chung and Civelli believe MCH works in the nucleus accumbens to increase the pleasure of eating. They found that dopamine signaling rose when MCH amounts increased in those brain cells.

The UCI researchers found that test mice conditioned to develop cocaine cravings had increased amounts of MCH and dopamine in their nucleus accumbens. When experimental compounds blocking MCH proteins were administered, those cravings disappeared. In addition, Chung and Civelli discovered that mice lacking key receptors for MCH exhibited significantly fewer cocaine cravings.

They hope to learn whether modulating MCH might be beneficial in treating other dopamine-related disorders as well.

Source: University of California - Irvine

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Artificial beta cells

December 8, 2016

Researchers led by ETH Professor Martin Fussenegger at the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) in Basel have produced artificial beta cells using a straightforward engineering approach.

Key regulator of bone development identified

December 8, 2016

Loss of a key protein leads to defects in skeletal development including reduced bone density and a shortening of the fingers and toes—a condition known as brachydactyly. The discovery was made by researchers at Penn State ...

Researchers question lifelong immunity to toxoplasmosis

December 8, 2016

Medical students are taught that once infected with Toxoplasma gondii—the "cat parasite"—then you're protected from reinfection for the rest of your life. This dogma should be questioned, argue researchers in an Opinion ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

LegalizeDrugs
not rated yet Apr 01, 2009
Cocaine should be legal. A group of very serious policemen have formed a group to legalize ALL drugs, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (leap.cc) They see what happened when we legalized alcohol in 1932 as a good example of how drug legalization would work. We can't stop drugs. They're sick of chasing drug users and sending innocent people to prison for decades just because they like to get high. This foolish war on drugs has lasted 37 years and cost us over a TRILLION dollars and we are not an inch closer to stopping drugs. How many millions of Americans are we going to lock up in prison for decades? My brother, Spencer Montgomery III would still be alive if heroin had been legal. He overdosed because He didn't know the actual strength of the heroin he injected. If he could have bought a known amount of heroin in a pharmacy he would still be alive today. Legalize ALL drugs now. Mark Montgomery

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.