Researcher finds new way to fight cocaine addiction

A researcher from the University of Pittsburgh believes she may have uncovered the solution to cocaine relapse. Yaoying Ma, a research associate and assistant professor of neuroscience at the university’s School of Arts and Sciences, stated that triggering an internal anti-addiction response in the body may help prevent relapse. Her findings were published in the journal Neuron.

Studying synapses

The study is the first of its kind to suggest that the brain has a natural circuitry that can resist a cocaine relapse through synapses that remodel the brain.

Ma’s most recent study is a follow-up to earlier research completed in the fall of 2013. Those findings were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Ma and her colleagues used rats to investigate how cocaine and its withdrawal symptoms affect the brain. They studied the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain that is associated with reward, motivation, addiction and emotion. They focused on synapses, the ends of nerve cells that send signals in the brain.

The study authors noticed that when rats ingest cocaine, new synapses are created that only send out a few signals and function partially. Once the rats stopped using cocaine, the synapses fully developed and functioned normally. After they have matured, the synapses send signals that cause the rats to crave the drug.

A natural reaction

Ma’s newest research suggests that there is more to these synapses than previously thought. When these synapses are created from cocaine use, they continually fire during cocaine withdrawals, causing a change in the brain’s topography. Ma discovered that the more the brain remodels, the less craving there is. Since the creation of these synapses and the brain remodeling occur on their own, Ma believes the body may have its own way to fight addiction.

However, the natural response to cocaine use could be tweaked to benefit people even more. Ma hopes her findings and the research of others will help create a way to manipulate the synapses to help reduce the risk of cocaine relapses. She noted that her research is far from over and she and her team are continually testing ways to alter the relapse response.

Despite the rise of heroin and prescription drugs, cocaine remains a popular drug among Americans. stated that behind marijuana, cocaine is the second most used drug in America. Twenty-five percent of adults between the ages of 26 and 34 have tried cocaine at least once in their lifetime. However, the drug is most popular among people between the ages of 18 and 25.

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