A regulatory protein best known for its role in a rare genetic brain disorder may help in controlling the intake of cocaine, a new study has found.
According to a recent study in rats, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute found that cocaine consumption increased levels of a regulatory protein called MeCP2 that shuttles back to the nucleus to influence gene expression in the brains of rats.
As levels of MeCP2 increased in the brain, so did the animals' motivation to self-administer cocaine.
This suggests that MeCP2 plays a crucial role in regulating cocaine intake in rats and perhaps in determining vulnerability to addiction.
"This discovery, using an animal model of addiction, has exposed an important effect of cocaine at the molecular level that could prove key to understanding compulsive drug taking," Nature quoted Nora D. Volkow of NIDA as saying.
"It should open up new avenues of research on the causes and ways to counter the behavioral changes linked to addiction in humans," Volkow said.
Researchers discovered that the brain's balance between MeCP2 and miRNA-212 ultimately regulates cocaine intake. When the balance shifts toward MeCP2, cocaine intake increases.
When the balance shifts toward miRNA-212, cocaine intake decreases. What determines the balance is not yet understood, however, and will be the focus of future research.
"This study represents another piece in the puzzle of determining vulnerability to cocaine addiction," said Paul J. Kenny of Scripps.
"If we can continue putting the pieces together, we may be able to determine whether there are viable treatments for this condition," Kenny added.
The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.