Potential Brain Target for Drug Addiction Treatment Discovered

A study published in Neuron suggests that targeting astrocyte calcium signaling could decrease the behavioral effects of amphetamine.

A novel potential target for treating drug addiction has been discovered, according to researchers at the New University of Minnesota Medical School.

A study published in Neuron suggests that targeting astrocyte calcium signaling could decrease the behavioral effects of amphetamine. Astrocytes are “the hidden stars of the brain,” according to Michelle Corkrum, PhD, co-leader of the study. These cells have been considered the “support cells” of the brain, and traditionally ignored by researchers in terms of actively contributing to brain function.

The study was intended to prove that astrocytes do contribute to information processing, and how organisms think and function.

The research team found that astrocytes respond to dopamine with increases in calcium in the nucleus accumbens, which is 1 of the major reward centers in the brain. The increase in calcium was related to the release of ATP/adenosine to modulate neural activity in the nucleus accumbens.

Following this, the team looked specifically at amphetamine due its ability to increase dopamine and psychomotor activity in organisms. This led to the discovery of astrocytes responding to amphetamine with increases in calcium; if astrocyte activity is ablated, the behavioral effect of amphetamine decreases.

“These findings suggest that astrocytes contribute to amphetamine signaling, dopamine signaling, and overall reward signaling in the brain,” Corkrum said in a prepared statement. “Because of this, astrocytes are a potentially novel cell type that can be specifically targeted to develop efficacious therapies for diseases with dysregulated dopamine.”

Corkrum plans to continue researching this topic and exploring what happens with repeated exposures, withdrawal, and reinstatement of amphetamine. In addition, she plans to study how the stage of addiction or disease state could affect the need to increase or decrease the activity of astrocytes.

REFERENCE

Researchers discover novel potential target for drug addiction treatment [news release]. Minneapolis, MN; January 15, 2020: University of Minnesota. https://med.umn.edu/news-events/researchers-discover-novel-potential-target-drug-addiction-treatment. Accessed February 20, 2020.