A specific neural mechanism in the brain that may be linked to persistent drug-seeking behaviour has been uncovered in new research. This is a find that could aid development of new therapies for cocaine addiction.
Certain areas in the brain are activated when cocaine users experience a craving for cocaine. The research indicates that increases in the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) have been observed in these areas in rats after withdrawal from repeated cocaine exposure.
"It has been shown that increased BDNF in the VTA after cocaine withdrawal in rats promotes the drug-dependent motivational state," said Dr. Mu-ming Poo from the University of California, Berkeley.
Although a clear correlation between rat and human behaviours of cocaine craving and relapse remains to be established, the cellular mechanism uncovered in this study does appear to have behavioural relevance and may represent a direct brain sensitisation that is involved in triggering relapse.
The study has been published by Cell Press in the September 9 issue of the journal Neuron.