Earlier research has shown that these cells become more excitable when a person takes drugs. To find out the functional meaning of this, these researchers used a mouse model for cocaine dependence. When they blocked the cellsā€™ receptors for glutamate Ā­- the brainā€™s most important signal substance -Ā­ the risk of relapsing into addiction vanished. The findings are being published in the highly ranked journal Neuron.

Dopamine-producing nerve cells are central to the brainā€™s reward system. Dependence-inducing drugs cause concentrations of dopamine to rise in the surroundings, which in turn affects other nerve cells and brings about various physical and mental reactions.

Cocaine has a very rapid impact on dopamine levels, which explains why it is one of the most addictive drugs.

ā€œWhen you take cocaine, the number of glutamate receptors increases, rendering the cell more excitable. When we block this process, we prevent relapses into addiction. This is interesting clinically since that is the phase when we can get hold of patients,ā€ says David Engblom, a neurobiologist at Linkƶping University and the studyā€™s lead author.

An addict who wants to give up drugs could thus be offered a ā€˜vaccinationā€™ against relapsing. But much more research remains to be done before such treatment can become a reality.

The article ā€œGlutamate Receptors on Dopamine Neurons Control the Persistence of Cocaine-Seekingā€ by David Engblom et al. is being published in Neuron on August 14.

David Engblom, Assistant professor, Division of Cell Biology, cell phone: +46 (0)70-2611302; e-mail: daven@ibk.liu.se