• Scientists identify molecular processes that may play a role in the development of addiction to opioid substances.
  • For this study researchers use a new imaging procedure that helps monitor the brain during exposure to opioids.
  • With insight from this study, we may have a better chance of understanding and treating addiction.


About the Research

New research about opioid addiction comes from Scripps Research. Their findings are available in the journal Cell Reports.

Opioid Addiction and Brain Function

Opioid addiction and addiction, in general, remain a mystery for science and medicine. This lack of knowledge is causing a public health problem that annually takes away 70,000 people in the USA. Our lack of knowledge comes from the fact that we do not understand the deep cellular changes that occur in addictive behavior. Not only that, there is also little success in the treatment of addiction.

The scientists from SR hope to change that with their innovative approach to opioid addiction research. Their research method stems from one basic fact we do know about addiction. That is, addictive behavior changes the body’s reward and motivation response to the environment. Furthermore, this physiological mechanism and dopamine have a close metabolic link in our bodies. In short, the intake of opioids changes how the body produces dopamine and why.

Opioids are substances that resemble the body’s own chemicals that it uses to signal certain receptors what they should do. Researchers from SR want to understand this inter-cellular communication process with more accuracy. Because of this, they look at the messenger molecule cyclic AMP (cAMP).

Furthermore, for this research the scientists utilize bio-engineering. They create mice with a sensor system that allows them to monitor cAMP levels in real-time. With this tool, they can see how mice respond to opioid intake. Or more precisely, how their neurons change their communication with the body because of opioid intake.

The Results

The results from their research show that opioid intake leads to distinct changes in cAMP signaling. This change occurs in two types of dopamine-sensitive neurons known as D1 and D2. Further research will help scientists determine how those changes affect the body and the neurons in the long run.

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Further Research
  • After reaching a complete understanding of the changes that occur in the neurons the scientists need to determine if they are reversible and how to initiate the process.