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Researchers Outline New Potential Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

Update Date: Jan 20, 2014 03:02 PM EST

Illegal drugs and cigarettes are extremely deadly and addictive. People who suffer from these addictions get help from rehabilitation programs. Unfortunately, these programs do not work for everyone. In a new study, researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai were able to outline how cocaine affects the brain's reward circuits, which leads to addiction. By understanding this molecular mechanism, the researchers were able to create a drug that has the potential to treat cocaine addictions.

The research team headed by Dr. Eric J. Nestler, MD, Ph.D., studied cocaine addiction in a mouse model. Nestler and colleagues reported that chronic cocaine administration caused the levels of enzyme PARP-1, also known as poly(ADP-ribosylation polymerase-1, to rise. The higher levels of PARP-1 are linked to causing cocaine addition.

"It is striking that changing the level of PARP-1 alone is sufficient to influence the rewarding effects of cocaine," Kimberly Scobie, PhD, the lead investigator and postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Nestler's laboratory, said.

The researchers then used chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing to identify the specific genes that were affected by PARP-1. They found one target gene, sidekick-1 that was altered after chronic exposure to cocaine. The researchers noted that when sidekick-1 was overexpressed, it magnified the rewarding effects of the drug. The team believes that more research into sidekick-1 could potentially help find better treatments for cocaine addiction.

"This discovery provides new leads for the development of anti-addiction medications," said Nestler, Nash Family Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Friedman Brain Institute, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Chronic and long-term cocaine use leads to addiction and in some cases, paranoid psychosis. The drug causes symptoms such as an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. The drug can also cause the user to shake and sweat. In some cases, the drug could lead to seizures, cardiac arrest and death.

The study, which was supported by the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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