CITY ADDICTIONS

Call for a consultation 020 7486 6669

hello@cityaddictions.co.uk

020 7486 6669

CONTACT US

Sticky molecules and the 'cocaine proof' mouse

Researchers in Germany dubbed a certain variant of the CAMK4 gene the ‘cocaine gene' after discovering that cocaine addicts were 25% more likely to carry this variant than non-users.

A biological basis for cocaine addiction.

Addiction is a complex disease and genetics almost certainly play a role, not only in its severity, but in its likelihood of an individual becoming addicted in the first place. Cocaine is rated as the second most addictive narcotic behind heroin. So does cocaine addiction run in the blood? Or, more specifically, the genes?

Back in 2008, researchers at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany dubbed a certain variant of the CAMK4 gene the ‘cocaine gene’ after discovering that cocaine addicts were 25% more likely to carry this variant than non-users. Rainer Spanagel, professor of psychopharmacology at the institute and leader of the study, concluded that carriers of this gene variant had a “significantly increased likelihood of becoming addicted.”

The ‘cocaine-proof’ mouse

This ignited a flurry of research into the biological basis of cocaine abuse. Most recently, the focus has been on the role of cadherins – a certain type of protein in the brain – after Canadian scientists accidentally created a ‘cocaine-proof’ mouse.

Cadherins play an important role in a process called ‘cell adhesion’. Their role is to form junctions that bind cells within tissues together. In layman’s terms, cadherins act a bit like glue, and this glue is very important in the brain’s learning process. Through a process of ‘positive reinforcement’ our brains are conditioned to repeat positive experiences which yield pleasurable results. Cadherins mediate this learning by strengthening the synapses between brain cells, making their connections more concrete.

Dr Shernaz Bamji and her collaborators at the University of British Columbia engineered the brains of mice in the lab so that they would have more cadherins, and confidently predicted that they would be more susceptible to cocaine addiction, as their pleasure response learning would be greater.

Bamji was flummoxed, however, when her mice actually displayed fewer addictive behaviours. When given the choice between a room they had learned to associate with receiving cocaine and other rooms in a maze, they were indifferent to the cocaine associated room, compared with their average levelled cadherin counterparts, who repeatedly returned for more cocaine. It was the non-altered mice that became addicted, and not their genetically modified cohorts.

These mice never learned to crave cocaine, even though they still experienced the high

Taking a closer look at the brains of the engineered mice it turned out that the overload of glue had actually ‘jammed up’ the neural pathways, thus inhibiting the cell adhesion process, thus preventing the connections from being formed. As a result, these mice never learned to crave cocaine, even though they still experienced the high.

So what does this mean for humans? Is there any way these results can be applied? Well the intricacies of that translation still need some working out. The increase of cadherins may have the potential to inhibit addiction, but by the same token the potential to damage other learning behaviours. And genetically modifying human brains is clearly out of the question.

This said, the implications of the research are still exciting. They open up a target for further research and the possibility for future treatments, and possibly even preventative vaccines. Research continues.

City Addictions, April 14, 2017

RELATED CONTENT

Your Brain on Porn - Scary Effects of Porn Addiction
Video

Scientists in the field of neuroscience and brain imaging are showing in study after study that high speed internet porn can change the brain just like drug addiction. This wreaks havoc on the reward/pleasure system in the brain resulting in devastating effects.

MORE
Bar set to banish alcoholic barristers
Best Of The Web

This piece from The Independent reveals that as far back as 2000 there was significant cause for concern that alcohol and drug taking in the legal professions was undermining public faith.

MORE
Alcohol is More Dangerous Than Heroin
Video

Professor David Nutt was infamously sacked from his role as Chief Drugs Advisor after publishing a report in the Lancet which challenged the government's policy on drugs, stating that alcohol is in fact more dangerous than heroin.

MORE
The controversy surrounding sex addiction
Article

While controversy over its definition – and even its very existence – continues to foment, sex addiction, all too often steeped in shame and guilt, is a very real problem that has a spectacular ability to destroy lives and relationships.

MORE
Is there a cocaine culture at the criminal bar?
Best Of The Web

Alex Aldridge, a freelance journalist writing in The Guardian, reflects on the implication given by the BBC drama Silk that cocaine use is rife in the legal profession.

MORE
China's ketamine craze
Video

The drug ketamine is mainly used as an anaesthetic, particularly in emergency medicine. But in some countries, it's become popular as a recreational drug. China is one — the authorities there say its use is soaring among young people — while its price continues to drop.

MORE