As more people are becoming aware of the dangers of using cocaine, a new study adds another thorn into the issue by describing a specific effect of the illicit drug on brain cells.
According to a research team from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, use of cocaine in high doses may lead brain cells to activate a process called autophagy. This natural phenomenon involves the degradation and recycling of cellular compounds, which may be useful for proper brain functioning. However, abnormal conditions may lead cells to destroy themselves.
The research revealed that cocaine increases the likelihood of brain cell autophagy. “Autophagy is the housekeeper that takes out the trash – it’s usually a good thing. But cocaine makes the housekeeper throw away really important things, like mitochondria, which produce energy for the cell,” said study co-author Prasun Guha via a news item.
To investigate the matter, the researchers used lab mice to assess the effects of cocaine in the animals’ brains. They also looked into the healing effect of the experimental drug experimental drug CGP3466B, which is being tested as a cure for diseases such as ALS and Parkinson’s disease. “We performed ‘autopsies’ to find out how cells die from high doses of cocaine. That information gave us immediate insight into how we might use a known compound to interfere with that process and prevent the damage,” said Johns Hopkins professor Solomon Snyder.
Based on their findings, the researchers are confident that the specificity of the impact of cocaine on brain cells could pave the way for better treatments to prevent this deadly effect.
This study echoes a similar research last year about the effect of cocaine on the natural communication channels in the brain.
The study is scheduled for publishing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.