Medical treatment for addiction that targets the brain cells responsible for drug cravings may be the key to preventing relapse.
In the United States alone, almost 20 million adults suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol. Addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder and preventing relapse is one of the major goals of addiction treatment. Despite the large amount of knowledge on the neuro-behavioural factors that can trigger relapse, there is currently no effective medical treatment for addiction. Both anti-relapsing medications and psychosocial therapies have had limited clinical success.
In a new study published in Nature Communications, a team of researchers from the United States took a different approach to investigating neuro-behaviours of drug addiction. Rather than studying the relapse-promoting factors, they studied the factors that suppressed drug cravings to prevent drug relapse.
The team developed an omission cue-induced suppression (OCIS) procedure to test in male rat models with two of the most widely abused drugs: cocaine and alcohol. The rats were first conditioned to be compulsive users of either cocaine or alcohol. They then tested how the rats responded to “omission cues” (i.e. environmental cues that drugs were not available). The study found that the omission cues were capable of successfully suppressing the factors that can promote and trigger drug relapse. This success was seen in both the cocaine and alcohol groups, indicating that a similar learning mechanism controls the drug-seeking behaviours of cocaine and alcohol as opposed to the unique pharmacological actions of each drug.
The researchers then looked further into the brain mechanisms involved with “anti-relapse” behaviours. They determined that brain cells in a region known as the infralimbic cortex, which is responsible for impulse control, are involved in the learned “anti-relapse” behaviours seen in the rats. The study’s results demonstrate that specific brain cells responding to omission cues work together to shape behaviour and suppress drug relapse.
Further research will continue building on the evidence presented in this study. The team hopes that continued research will lead to development of a successful medical treatment for addiction.
Written by Maggie Leung, PharmD.
Laque, A., Ness, G. L. D., Wagner, G. E., Nedelescu, H., Carroll, A., Watry, D., … Suto, N. (2019). Anti-relapse neurons in the infralimbic cortex of rats drive relapse-suppression by drug omission cues. Nature Communications, 10(1). doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-11799-1
(2019, September 9). Brain cells that suppress drug cravings may be the secret to better addiction medicines. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-09/sri-bct090919.php
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