Cocaine abuse might soon be easier to treat now that new research has identified how the brain processes addiction to it. Scientists have uncovered the brain function that leads to addiction after consuming cocaine, and successfully analyzed a new molecular mechanism that alters the brain's reward circuits to cause addiction. Regular cocaine use resulted in higher levels of an enzyme known as PARP-1, and those increased levels lead to cocaine addiction.
Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at New York City's Mount Sinai looked at cocaine addiction in mice and studied how taking cocaine led to the brain showing an increase in the PARP-1 enzyme. The discovery of the new brain function could lead to identifying other proteins that are regulated by cocaine, and developing PARP-1 inhibitors might be one way to reverse the addictive qualities of cocaine, according to the study.
Researchers also discovered a target gene, sidekick-1, which became altered after extensive cocaine use. The overexposure of sidekick-1, researchers said, magnified the rewarding effects of the drug.
The breakthrough research could be used to help in developing anti-addiction medications, said Dr. Eric J. Nestler, director of the Friedman Brain Institute at the Icahn School, said in a statement.
There are about 1.4 million people who are addicted to or abuse cocaine in the United States, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse; over 300,000 of those are crack users.
The Icahn School study is at least more helpful than a recent report out of Connecticut College which discovered that, to lab rats, Oreos are as addictive as cocaine.
Still, be careful kids. You don't want to end up like Hannah Horvath.