Monday, May 19, 2014
Gene Linked to Autism and Addiction Related Behaviors
"In our lab, we investigate the brain mechanisms behind drug addiction - a common and devastating disease with limited treatment options," explained Christopher Cowan, PhD, director of the Integrated Neurobiology Laboratory at McLean Hospital and an associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
"Chronic exposure to drugs of abuse causes changes in the brain that could underlie the transition from casual drug use to addiction. By discovering the brain molecules that control the development of drug addiction, we hope to identify new treatment approaches."
Laura Smith, PhD, an instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, led the research team that used animal models to show that the fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) has an important role in the development of addiction-related behaviors. The researchers found that cocaine utilizes FMRP to facilitate brain changes involved in addiction-related behaviors. FMRP has a hand in changing brain connections due to cocaine abuse.
"We know that experiences are able to modify the brain in important ways. Some of these brain changes help us, by allowing us to learn and remember. Other changes are harmful, such as those that occur in individuals struggling with drug abuse," points out Cowan and Smith.
"While FMRP allows individuals to learn and remember things in their environment properly, it also controls how the brain responds to cocaine and ends up strengthening drug behaviors. By better understanding FMRP's role in this process, we may someday be able to suggest effective therapeutic options to prevent or reverse these changes."
You can watch a more detailed explanation in this video.