Using cocaine restructures genes in the brain, Dallas scientists have found, the Dallas Morning News reports. The paper calls the development a significant step toward understanding how drug use can permanently alter the mind. “In addiction, the question is not only how people become addicted, but why do they stay addicted? Why do they still crave the drug?” said Dr. Michael Miles, a neuroscientist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “This is a potential mechanism for that.”
In a study that appeared last week in the journal Neuron, University of Texas Southwestern scientists report that cocaine use can alter genes in brain cells of mice. Some of the changes persist – and even build – after cocaine is withdrawn, precisely the type of change that should underlie addiction, said Dr. Eric Nestler, a neuroscientist at the university. The scientists found that, in experiments that prevented the genetic reprogramming, they could make cocaine less appealing to mice. That opens up new prospects for medicines to thwart addiction, said Nestler, who is chairman of the psychiatry department.