Research finds new method for treating drug addiction

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A new study at the University of Minnesota Medical School has found a potential new target for treating drug addiction – “the hidden stars of the brain.”

In a study recently published in Neuron, researchers said targeting astrocyte calcium signaling can decrease the behavioral effects of amphetamine. Star-shaped cells in the brain, astrocytes have long been thought to be support cells in the brain. But researchers found these “hidden stars of the brain” contribute to information processing and how organisms think and function.

Lead researcher Michelle Corkrum, Ph.D., a third-year medical student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Minnesota Medical School, along with her co-researcher Ana Covelo, Ph.D., said the astrocytes respond to dopamine in the brain with increases in calcium. When responding to amphetamine, which increases the amount of dopamine in the brain, the astrocytes also release more calcium.

In trials on mice, the two researchers found that if the astrocyte activity is ablated, the effects of the amphetamines in the system decrease.

“These findings suggest that astrocytes contribute to amphetamine signaling, dopamine signaling, and overall reward signaling in the brain,” Corkrum said. “Because of this, astrocytes are a potentially novel cell type that can be specifically targeted to develop efficacious therapies for diseases with dysregulated dopamine.”

Corkrum said she plans on continuing her research into astrocytes and what effects astrocytes have on amphetamine exposure and addiction

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