In today’s issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from MUSC and the National Institutes of Health describe how reminders of drug use can change specific brain cells responsible for motivation, increasing the desire to seek drugs. Connections between these and other brain cells strengthen because the dendritic spines, the parts of the brain cells that receive messages from other neurons, enlarge in response to intercellular communication by molecules in the brain. This enhanced connectivity increases the urge to engage in drug use, making relapse more likely. Understanding this communication pathway could lead to more targeted treatments for drug addiction.
“The key finding is that enlargement of [dendritic] spines is (…) induced by cues that are associated with addictive drugs, not cues that are associated with natural rewards.”
Dr. Peter Kalivas
The study was led by MUSC Department of Neuroscience professor