Hallucinogen used in shamanic rituals linked to hyperactivity

February 13th, 2009 - 6:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 13 (IANS) A hallucinogenic compound found in a plant native to South America and used in shamanic rituals regulates a mysterious protein that is possibly linked with hyperactivity.
The finding of University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M) researchers may have implications for treating drug abuse and/or depression.

Scientists have been searching for naturally occurring compounds that trigger activity in the protein, the sigma-1 receptor. In addition, a unique receptor for the hallucinogen, called dimethyltryptamine (DMT), has never been identified.

Biochemical, physiological and behavioural experiments proved that DMT does, in fact, activate the sigma-1 receptor.

“We have no idea at present if or how the sigma-1 receptor may be connected to hallucinogenic activity,” said senior co-author Arnold Ruoho, chair of pharmacology at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.

“But we believe that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) may be interested in biological mechanisms underlying psychoactive and addictive drug action.”

Elevated levels of DMT and a related molecule have been found in the urine of schizophrenics. Ruoho speculates that the hallucinogen’s involvement may mean that the sigma-1 receptor is connected in some fashion to psychoactive behaviour.

When his team injected DMT into mice known to have the receptor, the animals became hyperactive; mice in which the receptor had been genetically removed did not, said a UW-M release.

“Hyperactive behaviour is often associated with drug use or psychiatric problems,” says Ruoho. “It’s possible that new, highly selective drugs could be developed to inhibit the receptor and prevent this behaviour.”

The result was reported in the Friday issue of Science.

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