Brain protein might get you hooked on drugs, alcohol

May 29th, 2009 - 3:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 29 (IANS) A brain protein can practically hook you on to drugs and alcohol by hijacking the normal functioning of its reward circuitry.
Researchers investigating this addiction “switch” have now implicated a naturally occurring protein, a dose of which allowed them to get rats hooked with no drugs at all.

Chronic drug users, as noted by previous research, can experience an increase in this protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in the brain’s reward circuitry.

Researchers noted that a single injection of BDNF made rats behave as though they were dependent on opiates (which they had never received).

Though rats instinctively prefer certain smells, lighting and texture, these rats left their comfort zone in search of a fix.

“If we can understand how the brain’s circuitry changes in association with drug abuse, it could potentially suggest ways to medically counteract the effects of dependency,” said Scott Steffensen, neuroscientist at Brigham Young University (BYU).

He co-authored the study with two of his undergraduate students, one of his graduate students, and a team of researchers at the University of Toronto, said a BYU release.

“This work may reveal a mechanism that underlies drug addiction,” said study co-author Hector Vargas-Perez, a Toronto neurobiologist.

The study was published in Friday’s edition of Science.

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