Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center hope they have begun paving a new pathway in the fight against drug dependence. Their hypothesis – that increasing the normally occurring process of making nerve cells might prevent addiction – is based on a rodent study demonstrating that blocking new growth of specific brain nerve cells increases vulnerability for cocaine addiction and relapse.
The study’s findings, available in the Journal of Neuroscience, are the first to directly link addiction with the process, called neurogenesis, in the region of the brain called the hippocampus.
While the research specifically focused on what happens when neurogenesis is blocked, the scientists said the results suggest that increasing adult neurogenesis might be a potential way to combat drug addiction and relapse.
“More research will be needed to test this hypothesis, but treatments that increase adult neurogenesis may prevent addiction before it starts, which would be especially important for patients treated with potentially addictive medications,” said Dr. Amelia Eisch, associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study. “Additionally, treatments that increase adult neurogenesis during abstinence might prevent relapse.”
Increasingly, addiction researchers have recognized that some aspects of the condition – such as forming drug-context associations – might involve the hippocampus, which is a region of the brain associated with learning and memory. Only with recent technological advances have scientists been able to test their theories in animals by manipulating the birth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus of the adult brain.
Physical activity and novel and enriched environments have been shown in animal studies to be good for the brain in general, but more research is needed to see if they can increase human adult neurogenesis. …
Strange as it may sound, the road to addiction recovery might start on a treadmill.
A series of studies evaluating the relationship between exercise and substance abuse has produced promising results, prompting the National Institute on Drug Abuse to offer $4 million in grant money for additional research into whether regular vigorous activity can prevent addiction.
“Exercise has been shown to be beneficial in so many areas of physical and mental health,” NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow said in a press release announcing a two-day conference on the role of physical activity in addiction prevention. “This cross-disciplinary meeting is designed to get scientists thinking creatively about [exercise’s] potential role in substance abuse prevention.” – drugrehab.com
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