redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
New hope for the estimated 1.4 million Americans addicted to cocaine could come in the form of a laser-inspired treatment that could effectively turn off their craving for the illicit drug, claims research published in this week´s edition of the journal Nature.
According to HealthDay News, scientists from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the US National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) used laser light to stimulate the prefrontal cortex of genetically-modified, cocaine-addicted rats.
The researcher implanted special light-sensitive proteins known as rhodopsins into neurons in the rats´ prefrontal cortex, essentially transforming those neurons into a switch, CBS News explained. Doing so allowed them to “switch off” the addictive behavior in the rodents — or conversely, “switch on” cocaine cravings in rats that showed no signs of addictive behavior.
“When we turn on a laser light in the prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex, the compulsive cocaine seeking is gone,” Antonello Bonci, scientific director of the intramural research program at NIDA as well as also an adjunct professor of neurology at UCSF, said in a statement obtained by redOrbit. He and his colleagues believe their work could lead to a new drug-treatment therapy that could be tested immediately in humans.
However, HealthDay News points out the therapy would probably not use lasers in people. Rather, it would likely utilize an electromagnetic stimulation technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in order to achieve similar results in the prefrontal cortex.
TMS has been used to treat depression, they said, and in clinical trials it would be utilized during a few sessions each week in an attempt to reduce the desire for the drug — re-stimulating activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is dulled as a result of habitual cocaine use.
According to the researchers, cocaine abuse is the leading cause of heart attack and stroke for adults under the age of 35, and was responsible for more than 480,000 emergency room visits in 2008. The researchers also point out that use of the illicit substance has a large impact on society in other ways, including loss of on-the-job productivity, lost earnings, crime and incarcerations, and treatment and prevention programs.
The article, which is entitled “Rescuing cocaine-induced prefrontal cortex hypoactivity prevents compulsive cocaine seeking,” was published online Wednesday in the journal Nature. In addition to Bonci, co-authors on the paper were Billy T. Chen, Hau-Jie Yau, Christina Hatch, Ikue Kusumoto-Yoshida, Saemi L. Cho and F. Woodward Hopf.