High doses of the drug cocaine can trigger self-eating or cell suicide in the brain of mice, revealed a new study.
A study published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that the drug can trigger overactive autophagy, a process by which cells literally digest themselves.
The study was conducted on mice by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US. The mice were given high doses of cocaine and a post-mortem was carried out which showed clear signs of autophagy-induced cell death in the brains of mice given the drug.
They also found evidence of autophagy in the brain cells of mice whose mothers received the drug while pregnant.
The same team of researchers previously found that an experimental drug called CGP3466B was also able to rescue the brain cells of live mice from the deadly effects of cocaine, but they had not connected the phenomenon to autophagy.
When they tested the drug for cocaine-induced autophagy in mice, they found that the drug was able to prevent the process. But the researchers highlighted the need for more research to conclude whether the drug can prevent the harmful effects of cocaine in humans.
Co-author Dr Maged Harraz, also from Johns Hopkins University, said, "Since cocaine works exclusively to modulate autophagy versus other cell death programs, there's a better chance that we can develop new targeted therapeutics to suppress its toxicity."