The longstanding puzzle of why a key protein linked to learning is also needed to become addicted to cocaine has been solved, claims researchers.
The study describes how the learning-related protein works with other proteins to forge new pathways in the brain in response to a drug-induced rush of the "pleasure" molecule dopamine.
By adding important detail to the process of addiction, the researchers, led by a group at Johns Hopkins, said that the work may point the way to new treatments.
"The broad question was why and how cocaine strengthened certain circuits in the brain long term, effectively re-wiring the brain for addiction," Paul Worley, M.D., a professor in the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said.
"What we found in this study was how two very different types of systems in the brain work together to make that happen," he said.
The study is published in the journal Cell.