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Study reveals biochemical signature of cocaine craving in humans

UPTON, NY -- Ask anyone who has been addicted to drugs and they'll tell you that the mere sight of someone using their drug of choice -- or even people, places, or objects associated with drug use -- can trigger an intense desire for the drug. Using sophisticated brain-imaging techniques at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, scientists from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Brookhaven Lab, and the University of Pennsylvania have uncovered the brain chemistry that underlies such "cue-induced" craving in cocaine addicts. The work, which appears in the June 14, 2006 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests new targets for medications aimed at treating addiction.

"Drug craving triggered by cues, such as the sight, smell, and other sensory stimuli associated with a particular drug like cocaine, is central to addiction and poses an obstacle to successful therapy for many individuals," says NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, lead author on the study and former Associate Laboratory Director for life sciences research at Brookhaven Lab. "Today we can actually see increases in specific brain activities that are linked to this experience. If we can understand the mechanisms related to cue-induced craving, we can develop more effective treatment strategies to counteract it."

Previous research conducted at Brookhaven and elsewhere has shown that all addictive drugs increase the level of dopamine -- a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, associated with feelings of reward and pleasure -- in a part of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. "This acute reaction in the brain's 'pleasure center' is believed to underlie the reinforcing effects of addictive drugs, but does not explain the intense desire and compulsive use that occurs when addicted subjects are exposed to drug cues," said Gene-Jack Wang, who led Brookhaven's role in the current research.

To probe the role of dopamine in cue-induced craving, the scie
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Contact: Karen McNulty Walsh
kmcnulty@bnl.gov
631-344-8350
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
14-Jun-2006


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