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Understanding Morphine Addiction

December 10, 2009

Scientists are adding additional brush strokes to the revolutionary new image now emerging for star-shaped cells called astrocytes in the brain and spinal cord. Their report, which suggests a key role for astrocytes in morphine’s ability to relieve pain and cause addiction, appears online in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research, a monthly publication.

In the study, Piotr Suder and colleagues point out that nearly everyone viewed astrocytes “” the most abundant cells in the brain “” as supporting actors in the drama of brain activity. Scientists thought astrocytes simply propped up neurons, nerve cells that transmit signals, and kept them in proper position. Studies during the last several years, however, suggest that these cells are just as their Greek name suggests “” stars.

The scientists added morphine to a group of astrocytes in cell culture for several days. They found that the morphine-exposed cells showed increased levels of nine proteins that appear to play a role in maintaining the normal function of nerve cells. “These proteins, after additional detailed study of their function, may serve as a potential marker of drug addiction, or may be the targets for potential therapy,” the article notes.

Image Caption: Scientists are reporting new clues to understanding morphine addiction. Credit: US Drug Enforcement Administration

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