Cocaine Users Risk Permanent Damage in Brain

Cocaine addiction can be very difficult to overcome as individuals develop this addiction as a result of the drugs ability to generate a feeling of euphoria. Not only can such an addiction alter a person’s life, it can also create severe biological and behavioral problems.

According to a recent Science Daily release, research is being done to study how the brain’s chemicals and synaptic mechanisms react to cocaine addiction and what it could mean for future therapies.

This research is being conducted by University of Missouri researchers Ashwin Mohan and Sandeep Pendyam, doctoral students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“With cocaine addiction, addicts don’t feel an urge to revolt because there is a strong connection in the brain from the decision-making center to the pleasure center, which overwhelms other normal rewards and is why they keep seeking it,” Pendyam said in Science Daily. “By using computational models, we’re targeting the connection in the brain that latches onto the pleasure center and the parameters that maintain that process.”

In using the computational model, MU researchers determined that in an addict’s brain, there is excessive glutamate produced in the pleasure center, which makes the brain’s mechanisms unable to regulate themselves. This creates permanent damage, increasing the known risk for cocaine.

“Our model showed that the glutamate transporters, a protein present around these connections that remove glutamate, are almost 40 percent less functional after chronic cocaine usage,” Mohan said. “This damage is long lasting, and there is no way for the brain to regulate itself. Thus, the brain structure in this context actually changes in cocaine addicts.”