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Study reveals biochemical signature of cocaine craving in humans

ntists measured dopamine levels in various parts of the brain in 18 cocaine addicts as they watched a "cocaine-cues" video (featuring people buying and using cocaine), and the same 18 subjects as they watched a "neutral" video of natural scenery.

"To make the drug-cues video, we worked with addicts who advised us on how to make it as realistic as possible while simulating scenes involving smoking or snorting cocaine," said Wang. The scientists also asked the subjects to rate their level of craving while watching both videos, and assessed the severity of their addiction using a standard cocaine craving scale.

Dopamine levels were measured indirectly using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning at Brookhaven's Center for Translational Neuroimaging. Each subject was injected with a radiotracer designed to bind to dopamine receptors in the brain. During scanning, the PET camera picks up the signal from any bound radiotracer so that levels of tracer bound to receptors can be compared with levels in the blood. As the body's natural dopamine levels rise, this "endogenous" dopamine competes with the tracer for binding sites, so less radiotracer can bind to the receptors. Therefore, the lower the bound tracer signal, the higher the concentration of endogenous dopamine.

Compared with the neutral video, the cocaine-cues video triggered a significant increase in dopamine in the dorsal striatum, a part of the brain involved in experiencing desire or motivation. The changes in dopamine were associated with the level of craving reported by the subjects and were largest in the most severely addicted subjects.

This finding is consistent with previous animal studies that have suggested a role for the dorsal striatum in cue-induced craving. In those studies, neutral stimuli such as a particular cage environment that had been paired with a drug during "training" sessions later triggered a dopamine increase in both the nucleus accumbens and the dorsa
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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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