BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: addiction

Cocaine Addiction is Curable

University of Chicago researchers have made groundbreaking discoveries in the CRISPR field. Following malaria resistant mosquitoes and heat resistant cows, we are well on our way to creating cocaine-resistant mice. Scientists Xiaoyang Wu and Ming Xu teamed up to create a piece of technology that utilized the human body’s natural ability to break down cocaine, using an enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase, or “BCHE”.

After learning of BCHE, one may wonder, “why do people get addicted to cocaine if the human body makes an enzyme specifically to break it down?” In reality, “its short half-life makes it ineffective in a clinical scenario, since it disappears before it has any long-term impact on the body’s response to cocaine.” Researchers Wu and Xu had to find a way to prolong its life span to allow it time enough to work, as well as increase its potency to combat the severe nature of addiction. The scientists used epidermal stem cells in the mice, and using CRISPR technology, converted them into “BChE-producing factories.” The BCHE is easily distributed into the blood through the skin cells, and resulted in the inhibition of the mice’s withdrawal symptoms, and even preventing death in the case of lethal doses.

Not only did the stem cells work, but the mice responded well- producing high levels of BCHE for over two months without a negative immune system reaction.

“Apparently, the enzyme broke down the drug before much, if any, of it could reach their brains.”

A graph of showing the rapid increase of cocaine-caused deaths in the USA from 2002-2017.

The idea of cocaine-resistant mice may seem oddly specific, but cocaine addiction is a serious problem that we as Americans face. According to Ray Donovan, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) New York Division, “cocaine is making a comeback in New York,”. It is a problem that we as Americans, and especially New Yorkers, will likely come into contact with some way or another. It doesn’t have to stop with one drug. While BCHE is unique to cocaine decomposition, there may be other enzymes that can similarly be implemented. The danger is this; if cocaine (or other drug) addiction is easily curable, who is to stop anyone from using it? Hopefully, the general public will have seen the aftereffects of cocaine addiction, and not use this new technology to excuse bad choices because they deem it less dangerous than before.

Just Because My D1 Neurons Are Excited, Doesn’t Mean My Risk of Alcoholism Increases…Does it?!

Alcoholism can now not only be studied and analyzed at the psychological level, but also at the molecular level, thanks to researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. They recently conducted a study that found how alcohol influences the dorsomedial striatum, the part of the brain that participates in decision-making and goal-driven behaviors.

The dorsomedial striatum is composed of medium spiny neurons, neurons that have many branches, or spines, protruding off their dendrites.

(Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Confocal_image_of_spiny_neuron_-_1.jpg)

Spiny neurons have receptors for dopamine, which is further categorized into dopamine D1 and D2 neurotransmitters. D1 neurons have receptors for D1 neurotransmitters. They send excitatory postsynaptic potentials and encourage the action potential/signal to continue. D2 neurons counteract D1 neurons; they send inhibitory postsynaptic potentials and discourage further actions. In this study, D1 neurons prove to be a major part of alcoholism and addiction.

High consumption of alcohol, scientists learned, excites D1 neurons. The more excited they become, the more compelled one feels to perform an action…in this case, the action is drinking another alcoholic beverage.

More drinking induces more D1 neuron excitement, which leads to even more drinking.

Not only does it affect a D1 neuron’s excitability, alcohol also makes physical changes to the neuron itself at the molecular level, and consequently affects the neuron’s function.

In their study, researchers divided their test subjects into two groups: one that’s exposed to alcohol and one that’s not. Analyzing their spiny neurons, scientists saw that though the number of spines in the neurons of the individuals of each group didn’t change, the ratio of the difference between mature and immature spines was dramatic. The subjects that drank alcohol had notably longer branches and a high number of mature mushroom-shaped spines. The abstainers’ neurons had shorter branches and more immature mushroom-shaped spines. Mature, mushroom-shaped spines are involved in long-term memory; activation of long-term memory through alcohol underlies addiction.

However, there’s promising news! The study also showed results that blocking, or at least partially blocking, D1 receptors via a drug can inhibit and reduce the desire for consumption of another drink.

This is a huge step towards finding a cure for alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disease that affects not only the individual, but also his or her family, relatives, friends, etc…With this study, the scientific community has more of an understanding of how to go about creating new drugs and combating alcoholism.

If we suppress this activity, we’re able to suppress alcohol consumption. This is the major finding. Perhaps in the future, researchers can use these findings to develop a specific treatment targeting these neurons.

-Jun Wang, M.D., Ph.D., the lead author on the paper and an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

What do you think? Do you think this study promotes a viable option towards curing alcoholism and addiction, or is there another method out there that we should be pursuing? Leave a comment below!

 

Original Article

Hope for Cocaine Addicts?

Cocaine, known as “the caviar of street drugs”, is expensive and has “powerful, negative effects”. Roughly 25% of americans between the age of 24 and 36 use or have used cocaine. Despite the dangerous effects of cocaine, After marijuana and amphetamines, cocaine is considered to be the most widely available drug on high school and college campuses in the United States. In 2002, there were 212 hospital admissions for cocaine abuse per 100,000 residents aged 12 or older in New York. Because cocaine use is so prevalent, it is important to raise awareness and to help addicts stop using.

Image taken from WikiMedia

 

What happens when you snort cocaine?

The cocaine quickly enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain. In the brain, cocaine interferes with neurotransmitters. Cocaine blocks norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters from being reabsorbed. The resulting chemical buildup between nerves causes euphoria or feeling “high.”

 

 

Long term use of cocaine can prevent neurotransmitter to be released naturally in the brain. This means the only way to feel good is to do cocaine again. It is estimated that there are 200,000 people in the united states addicted to cocaine.

 

Stopping the use of cocaine is a painful and even harmful experience for addicts. However, recent studies have indicated that there may be a fast track to addiction recovery.In addicts, the drug compulsion can be blamed on a group of “sluggish neurons” that rely on drugs to be stimulated. In drug-addicted rats, the drug compulsion was eased by a laser stimulated those affected neurons.

This experiment seems to partially solve the issue of cocaine addiction. Laser therapy could make the withdrawal of cocaine a much more doable process. However, there is still part of the problem to address: relapse. Most previous addicts relapse when they are surrounded by users. this is because the sight of cocaine triggers the memory of the euphoric high they used to experience on cocaine.

 

Link to Main Article:

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/349410/description/Light_found_in_cocaine_addiction_tunnel

Links to Additional Articles:

http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/cocaine-use-and-its-effects

http://www.michaelshouse.com/cocaine-addiction/statistics/

Link to Photo:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Physiological_effects_of_Crack_cocaine.png

Why do only some COCAINE users become addicted?

The obvious precursor to cocaine addiction is cocaine use. However, some people are able to use cocaine on and off with out becoming addicted while others become afflicted by addiction very quickly. There has always been the theory that your personality can make you more prone to addictions and other “weak” decisions but recent studies go a step beyond that and link addiction to the structure of an individual’s brain.

The frontal lobe of the brain is associated with self-control. The size of the frontal lobe appears to indicate how susceptible an individual would be to cocaine addictions. A study done by scientists at the University of Cambridge compared the brains of casual cocaine users versus cocaine addicts. What they found was a noticeable difference in size of the frontal lobe: users had a larger frontal lobe while addicts had a smaller frontal lobe.

The scientists believe that the size difference was preexistent and  not a result of drug use because both groups were cocaine users. The main difference was that the mere users “could take it or leave it” due to their more powerful self control.

The brain is a popular subject when it comes to addictions due to the harm addictions can cause and due to the hope of a better understanding of addictions so that they can be “cured”. There are newly defined addictions more and more frequently, as addictions to food, caffeine, internet, and shopping become more and more prevalent.

Another example of increased susceptibility to addiction is the genetic or hereditary quality of alcoholism. “Though the exact mechanisms haven’t been identified, experts in alcoholism widely agree that some people are genetically vulnerable to developing the disorder.” Also, experts suggest that many people addicted opiates may have “deficiencies in their brain reward systems.”

Further studies exploring the links to the brain and addictions would be instrumental in curing the countless addictions that interfere with people’s quality of life.

 

Link to Main Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/science/brain-shape-may-play-role-in-cocaine-addiction.html?ref=science&_r=0

Link to additional articles:

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3076712/#.URBDX81RLzc http://www.time.com/time/interactive/0,31813,1640235,00.html

Link to the photo used:http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalarchives/4327205241/

 

 

Crystal Meth is bad for you

Breaking Bad is a show based around high school teacher Walter White. Walter was a regular chemistry teacher until one day he found out that he had inoperable lung cancer. He then turned to creating crystal meth to make money in order to support his family before he died with his former student Jesse Pinkman. It’s thrilling to watch Walter as he tries to leads the double life of a chemistry teacher with a family and a diseased drug dealer, but is definitely not something you want to try. Crystal Meth is a methamphetamine. The reason people use it is because it releases a large amount of dopamine which creates a prolonged sense of euphoria. This rush damages the dopamine receptors which eventually leads to not being able to feel pleasure at all. Chronic abuse can lead to psychotic behavior, including paranoia, insomnia, anxiety, extreme aggression, delusions and hallucinations, and even death. Other side effects include diarrhea, nausea, excessive sweating, increased blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, blood sugar levels, bronchodilation, and “meth mouth”. Meth mouth causes teeth to rapidly decay and fall out. The moral of the story is don’t do drugs.

Photo taken by Michael Allen Smith at INeedCoffee.com

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