New discoveries offer hope for treatment of cocaine addiction

Thursday, November 18, 2010

WASHINGTON - University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee scientists have come up with two new discoveries that offer potential for development of a first-ever pharmacological treatment for cocaine addiction.

In one study, a common beta-blocker, propranolol, currently used to treat hypertension and anxiety, has shown to be effective in preventing the brain from retrieving memories associated with cocaine use in animal-addiction models.

This is the first time that a therapeutic treatment has been shown to block the retrieval of memories associated with drug addiction, a major reason many addicts experience relapse, said Devin Mueller, UWM assistant professor of psychology and a co-author with James Otis of the research.

Along with this, the researchers also have identified the primary players in the brain responsible for “extinction” learning - the ability to replace cocaine-associated memories with associations that have no drug “reward.”

Understanding the neural mechanisms for extinction learning can also point to a possible pharmacological target for treating drug addiction, says Mueller.

The effects of propranolol were long-lasting and could be permanent, he says, even without subsequent doses and even in the presence of stimuli known to induce relapse.

The success of current exposure therapy, however, is limited. Combining therapy with the use of propranolol, says Mueller, would boost the effectiveness of the treatment.

The work was presented today at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego. (ANI)

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