Study Examines Potential to Control Drug Dependence

For the millions of individuals who fight drug dependence every day, not all of them set out to develop a drug problem. Those who are desperate to find relief may benefit from work done by researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Featured in a Science Daily release, their hypothesis that increasing the normally occurring process of making nerve cells might prevent addiction is based on a rodent study that demonstrates that blocking new growth of specific brain nerve cells increases the vulnerability for cocaine addiction and relapse.

The findings from this study are the first to directly link addiction with the process, known as neurogensis, in the region of the brain known as the hippocampus. The study focused on what happens when neurogenesis is blocked, yet scientists suggest increasing adult neurogensis might be a potential way to combat drug addiction and relapse.

“More research will be needed to test this hypothesis, but treatments that increase adult neurogenesis may prevent addiction before it starts, which would be especially important for patients treated with potentially addictive medications,” said Dr. Amelia Eisch, associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study.

Addiction researchers continue to recognize that some aspects of the condition – such as forming drug-context associations – might involve the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with learning and memory. By manipulating the birth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus of the adult brain, scientist can test their theories in animals.

“If we can create and implement therapies that prevent addiction from happening in the first place, we can improve the length and quality of life for millions of drug abusers, and all those affected by an abuser’s behavior,” Dr. Eisch said.

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