Potential Therapeutic Target Identified to Tackle Drug Addiction
Drugs like cocaine are known to be very addictive, mainly due to their cellular interaction, which, in turn, creates strong cellular remembrance in the brain that stimulates compulsive behaviours. Researchers have given their best to understand the reason behind the creation of these memories with a hope to find ways to derange them as an effective treatment for SUD or Substance Use Disorder. A new study revealed that astrocytes, a type of cell, formed synapses in mice bodies upon the usage of cocaine.
Glias, including astrocytes, were thought of as the “glue” holding the neurons together, without having any significant role in memory or recognition. Astrocytes react to cocaine by assisting the growth of new synapses, as stated by the senior author of the study. Synapses are known to be the physical connection spots between neurons, along with being the cellular substrate for implanting memory traces.
These drug-induced synaptic interconnections are subconscious memories that contribute to addiction, like most of the cellular associations that take place in the brain. Memories linked with drug-abuse are durable and carry the potential to trigger drug recurrence even after a longer abstinent period.
The response to cocaine was often thought to be purely neural. However, this study revealed that astrocytes play a vital role to create an ever-lasting effect of cocaine. To analyse the synapse formation process, transgenic mice were bred by the researchers with the help of which they visualized calcium signals, which is used by astrocytes for cell-to-cell communication. The focus was on nucleus accumbens, a region in the brain known to be associated with addiction, learning, and reward. The data revealed that astrocytes signaling were necessary for the synapse formation.
The team performed several other behavioral experiments wherein rats were used to test the process of addiction. When the synapses formation procedure was blocked by the researchers, the drug relapse process did not occur within the rats as before. The study suggested that the formation procedure of new synapses can be manipulated for effective therapeutic solution for substance use disorder.
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