Steady relationships reduce amphetamine's rewarding effects

Long-term relationships make the commonly abused drug amphetamine less appealing, according to a new animal study in the June 1 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings suggest that social bonds formed during adulthood lead to changes in the brain that may protect against drug abuse.

Prairie voles are rodents that form lifelong bonds with mating partners. In the new study, researchers directed by Zuoxin Wang, PhD, of Florida State University, found that male voles in established relationships displayed less interest in compared with their single counterparts. Amphetamine exposure led to changes in the nucleus accumbens — a part of the brain's reward system — that differed depending on the relationship status of the voles.

Wang and his colleagues found brain cells of both paired and single voles released a similar amount of dopamine — a brain chemical important in pleasurable activities like eating and sex — in response to amphetamine. However, this released dopamine may have had differential effects in paired and single voles. Once released, dopamine binds to molecules called receptors on the surface of brain cells. Amphetamine use increased D1 receptor binding in the nucleus accumbens in single voles, but decreased it in paired voles, suggesting the single and paired voles had opposite responses to the drug.

Drugs that blocked dopamine from binding to the D1 receptor in the lessened amphetamine reward in single voles, while drugs that increased dopamine binding at this site appeared to make amphetamine more appealing to the paired voles.

"Our results indicate that the pair bonding experience may alter the neurobiological response to drugs of abuse, which in turn may diminish the rewarding effects of the drug itself," study author Wang said.

Earlier work in Wang's laboratory showed single voles sought out the rewarding effects of amphetamine and that repeated exposure to the drug threw off their drive to form lifelong partnerships. In the current study, the researchers explored whether relationships formed during adulthood could buffer against amphetamine's rewarding properties.

"While this study is very interesting, it will be important to determine whether pair-bonded voles would be less likely to work for drugs of abuse if given unlimited access," said Larry Young, PhD, an expert in social behavior at Emory University, who was unaffiliated with the study. "Understanding the neurobiology of how protect against the rewarding aspects of drug abuse may ultimately inform novel therapies for addiction."

Related Stories

Research Links Change in Brain with Addiction

Feb 01, 2007

A researcher at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) has found a change in the brain that occurs after drug use and that may contribute to drug addiction.

Researchers create first transgenic prairie voles

Dec 01, 2009

Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, have successfully generated the first transgenic prairie voles, an important step toward unlocking the genetic secrets of pair bonding. The future ...

Recommended for you

Molecular basis of age-related memory loss explained

10 hours ago

From telephone numbers to foreign vocabulary, our brains hold a seemingly endless supply of information. However, as we are getting older, our ability to learn and remember new things declines. A team of ...

The neurochemistry of addiction

11 hours ago

We've all heard the term "addictive personality," and many of us know individuals who are consistently more likely to take the extra drink or pill that puts them over the edge. But the specific balance of ...

Study examines blood markers, survival in patients with ALS

Jul 21, 2014

The blood biomarkers serum albumin and creatinine appear to be associated with survival in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and may help define prognosis in patients after they are diagnosed with the fatal ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Jun 02, 2011
On the other hand, the effect of amphetamine may mimic some of the feelings associated with being in a relationship. Stimulants generally produce a warm 'loving' feeling or its opposite, hate, anger and aggression. If it is the feeling that is the causative agent then we'd expect that any of the feelings evoked by the amphetamine that are naturally occurring higher without the drug would ameliorate its attractiveness eg being in a situation that stimulates loving feelings or aggression...