Scientists discover a novel opiate addiction switch in the brain

September 10, 2013

Neuroscientists at Western University (London, Canada) have made a remarkable new discovery revealing the underlying molecular process by which opiate addiction develops in the brain. Opiate addiction is largely controlled by the formation of powerful reward memories that link the pleasurable effects of opiate-class drugs to environmental triggers that induce drug craving in individuals addicted to opiates. The research is published in the September 11th issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

The Addiction Research Group led by Steven Laviolette of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry was able to identify how exposure to heroin induces a specific switch in a memory molecule in a region of the brain called the basolateral amygdala, which is involved importantly in controlling memories related to opiate addiction, withdrawal, and relapse. Using a rodent model of opiate addiction, Laviolette's team found that the process of opiate addiction and withdrawal triggered a switch between two molecular pathways in the amygdala controlling how opiate addiction memories were formed. In the non-dependent state, they found that a molecule called extracellular signal-related kinase or "ERK" was recruited for early stage addiction memories. However, once opiate addiction had developed, the scientists observed a functional switch to a separate molecular memory pathway, controlled by a molecule called calmodulin-dependent kinase II or "CaMKII".

"These findings will shed important new light on how the brain is altered by opiate drugs and provide exciting new targets for the development of novel pharmacotherapeutic treatments for individuals suffering from chronic opiate addiction," says Laviolette, an associate professor in the Departments of Anatomy & Cell Biology, Psychiatry, and Psychology.

Explore further: Radical solution to ‘clip’ addiction

More information: The paper is titled "Opiate Exposure and Withdrawal Induces a Molecular Memory Switch in the Basolateral Amygdala Between ERK1/2 and CaMKII-Dependent Signaling Substrates."

Related Stories

Radical solution to ‘clip’ addiction

August 8, 2011

Accidentally leaving a stainless-steel spatula in an overnight experiment has led to the discovery of a more efficient and environmentally friendly method of producing anti-addiction medications.

Heroin availability increasing across Washington state

June 12, 2013

New data from the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute indicates increases in heroin availability, abuse and deaths across the state, particularly among young adults ages 18-29. These increases are ...

Early warning of newborn withdrawal

July 2, 2013

In substance-exposed newborns, identification of the gene variations associated with risk of opioid addiction could aid the treatment of their withdrawal symptoms in the critical hours after birth, according to a University ...

New insight into how brain 'learns' cocaine addiction

August 1, 2013

A team of researchers says it has solved the longstanding puzzle of why a key protein linked to learning is also needed to become addicted to cocaine. Results of the study, published in the Aug. 1 issue of the journal Cell, ...

Recommended for you

New theory explains how beta waves arise in the brain

July 25, 2016

Beta rhythms, or waves of brain activity with an approximately 20 Hz frequency, accompany vital fundamental behaviors such as attention, sensation and motion and are associated with some disorders such as Parkinson's disease. ...

Visual pigment rhodopsin forms two-molecule complexes in vivo

July 25, 2016

The study of rhodopsin—the molecule that allows the eye to detect dim light—has a long and well-recognized history of more than 100 years. Nevertheless, there is still controversy about the structure in which the molecule ...

Scientists show how memories are linked in the brain

July 22, 2016

Some memories just seem to go together. Think about an important experience in your life. You may also closely remember another experience that happened around that time too, like exchanging vows at your wedding, and then ...

Novel compounds arrested epilepsy development in mice

July 22, 2016

A team led by Nicolas Bazan, MD, PhD, Boyd Professor and Director of LSU Health New Orleans' Neuroscience Center of Excellence, has developed neuroprotective compounds that may prevent the development of epilepsy. The findings ...

0 comments

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.