Computer model shows changes in brain mechanisms for cocaine addicts

September 22, 2009
Computer model shows changes in brain mechanisms for cocaine addicts
These are doctoral students in the MU Computational Neurobiology Center. The Computational Neurobiology Center is engaged in collaborative research that explores aspects of functioning of both invertebrate and vertebrate brains Credit: Photo taken by Nancy McMullen

About 2 million Americans currently use cocaine for its temporary side-effects of euphoria, which have contributed to making it one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs in the country. Cocaine addiction, which can cause severe biological and behavioral problems, is very difficult to overcome. Now, University of Missouri researchers Ashwin Mohan and Sandeep Pendyam, doctoral students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, are utilizing computational models to study how the brain's chemicals and synaptic mechanisms, or connections between neurons, react to cocaine addiction and what this could mean for future therapies.

"With cocaine addiction, addicts don't feel an urge to revolt because there is a strong connection in the brain from the decision-making center to the , which overwhelms other normal rewards and is why they keep seeking it," Pendyam said. "By using computational models, we're targeting the connection in the brain that latches onto the pleasure center and the parameters that maintain that process."

Glutamate is the major chemical released in the synaptic connections in the brain; the right amount present determines the activity of those connections. Using the , MU researchers found that in an addict's brain excessive glutamate produced in the pleasure center makes the brain's mechanisms unable to regulate themselves and creates permanent damage, making cocaine addiction a disease that is more than just a behavioral change.

"Our model showed that the glutamate transporters, a protein present around these connections that remove glutamate, are almost 40 percent less functional after chronic cocaine usage," Mohan said. "This damage is long lasting, and there is no way for the brain to regulate itself. Thus, the in this context actually changes in cocaine addicts."

Mohan and Pendyam, in collaboration with MU professor Satish Nair, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Peter Kalivas, professor and chair of the neuroscience department at the Medical University of South Carolina, found that the parameters of the brain that activate the pleasure center's connections beyond those that have been discovered must undergo alteration in order for addicts to recover. This novel prediction by the computer model was confirmed based on experimental studies done on animal models by Kalivas' laboratory.

"The long-term objective of our research is to find out how some rehabilitative drugs work by devising a model of the fundamental workings of an addict's brain," said Mohan, who will attend Washington University in St. Louis for his postdoctoral fellowship. "Using a systems approach helped us to find key information about the addict's that had been missed in the past two decades of research."

More information: Moham and Pendyam's research has been published in Neuroscience and as a book chapter in New Research on Neuronal Network from Nova Publishers.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia (news : web)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

After 15 years in a vegetative state, nerve stimulation restores consciousness

September 25, 2017
A 35-year-old man who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years after a car accident has shown signs of consciousness after neurosurgeons implanted a vagus nerve stimulator into his chest. The findings reported in Current ...

Study reveals breakthrough in decoding brain function

September 25, 2017
If there's a final frontier in understanding the human body, it's definitely not the pinky. It's the brain.

Overturning widely held ideas: Visual attention drawn to meaning, not what stands out

September 25, 2017
Our visual attention is drawn to parts of a scene that have meaning, rather than to those that are salient or "stick out," according to new research from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis. ...

A brain system that builds confidence in what we see, hear and touch

September 25, 2017
A series of experiments at EPFL provide conclusive evidence that the brain uses a single mechanism (supramodality) to estimate confidence in different senses such as audition, touch, or vision. The study is published in the ...

The rat race is over: New livestock model for stroke could speed discovery

September 25, 2017
It is well-known in the medical field that the pig brain shares certain physiological and anatomical similarities with the human brain. So similar are the two that researchers at the University of Georgia's Regenerative Bioscience ...

Brain guides body much sooner than previously believed

September 25, 2017
The brain plays an active and essential role much earlier than previously thought, according to new research from Tufts University scientists which shows that long before movement or other behaviors occur, the brain of an ...

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.