Morphine, as little as a single dose, blocks the brain’s ability to strengthen connections at inhibitory synapses, according to new Brown University research published in Nature.
The findings, uncovered in the laboratory of Brown scientist Julie Kauer, may help explain the origins of addiction in the brain. The research also supports a provocative new theory of addiction as a disease of learning and memory.
“We’ve added a new piece to the puzzle of how addictive drugs affect the brain,” Kauer said. “We’ve shown here that morphine makes lasting changes in the brain by blocking a mechanism that’s believed to be the key to memory making. So these findings reinforce the notion that addiction is a form of pathological learning.”
Kauer, a professor in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology and Biotechnology at Brown, is interested in how the brain stores information. Long-term potentiation, or LTP, is critical to this process.
In LTP, connections between neurons – called synapses, the major site of information exchange in the brain – become stronger after repeated stimulation. This increased synaptic strength is believed to be the cellular basis for memory.
In her experiments, Kauer found that LTP is blocked in the brains of rats given as little as a single dose of morphine. The drug’s impact was powerful: LTP continued to be blocked 24 hours later – long after the drug was out of the animal’s system.
“The persistence of the effect was stunning,” Kauer said. “This is your brain on drugs.”
Kauer recorded the phenomenon in the ventral tegmental area, or VTA, a small section of the midbrain that is involved in the reward system that reinforces survival-boosting behaviors such as eating and sex – a reward system linked to addiction. The affected synapses, Kauer found, were those between inhibitory neurons and dopamine neurons. In a healthy brain, inhibitory cells would limit the release of dopamine, the “pleasure chemical” that gets released by naturally rewarding experiences. Drugs of abuse, from alcohol to cocaine, also increase dopamine release.
So the net effect of morphine and other opioids, Kauer found, is that they boost the brain’s reward response. “It’s as if a brake were removed and dopamine cells start firing,” she explained. “That activity, combined with other brain changes caused by the drugs, could increase vulnerability to addiction. The brain may, in fact, be learning to crave drugs.”
Kauer and her team not only recorded cellular changes caused by morphine but also molecular ones. In fact, the researchers pinpointed the very molecule that morphine disables – guanylate cyclase. This enzyme, or inhibitory neurons themselves, would be effective targets for drugs that prevent or treat addiction.
Fereshteh Nugent, a Brown postdoctoral research associate, and Esther Penick, a former Brown postdoctoral research associate who now serves as assistant professor of biology at Knox College, rounded out the research team.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse funded the work.
Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call the Office of Media Relations at (401) 863-2476.
Wendy Lawton | EurekAlert!
Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed
18.01.2017 | American Chemical Society
127 at one blow...
18.01.2017 | Stiftung Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, Leibniz-Institut für Biodiversität der Tiere
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
18.01.2017 | Life Sciences