NEW YORK, Jan. 20 — New York researchers have identified a molecular mechanism by which cocaine alters the brain’s reward circuits and causes addiction.
Dr. Eric J. Nestler, director of the Friedman Brain Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, and colleagues said the preclinical research reveals how an abundant enzyme and synaptic gene affect a key reward circuit in the brain, changing the ways genes are affected.
The research team studied cocaine addiction in a mouse model. They found regular cocaine use caused the levels of enzyme PARP-1 — also known as poly(ADP-ribosylation polymerase-1 — to increase.
The higher levels of the enzyme are linked to causing cocaine addition, the researchers said.
“This discovery provides new leads for the development of anti-addiction medications,” Nestler, the study leader, said in a statement.
Nestler said the research team is using PARP to identify other proteins regulated by cocaine. PARP inhibitors might also prove valuable in changing cocaine’s addictive power, the study found.
The researchers used chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing to identify the specific genes affected by PARP-1.
The study, published in the the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also found one target gene, sidekick-1, was altered after chronic exposure to cocaine. The researchers said when sidekick-1 was overexposed, it magnified the rewarding effects of the drug.
The research opens the door to a brand new direction for therapeutics to treat cocaine addiction. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reveal that nearly 1.4 million Americans meet criteria for dependence or abuse of cocaine.