Research seeks way to block euphoria associated with cocaine use

May 28, 2015


Research underway at UNT Health Science Center could lead to a medication to treat cocaine addiction.

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug, and about 80 percent of cocaine abusers relapse six months after leaving a rehabilitation facility.  A medication that could block the effects of cocaine might be useful as part of a rehabilitation program.

Currently there are no drugs that are FDA approved for the treatment of cocaine dependence.

“A better understanding of how cocaine might change dopamine receptor signaling in the brain may lay the foundation for developing new medications,” said Robert Luedtke, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology & Neuroscience.

Cocaine increases the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine, leading to an intense feeling of euphoria. Drug use is often followed by depression and a craving for more cocaine.  Cocaine also causes hallucinations, mood disturbances, increased blood pressure and a heightened risk of heart attack and stroke.

Dr. Luedtke’s research focuses on the role of the dopamine D3 receptor in cocaine addiction.  If the D3 receptor is blocked, the cocaine abuser may no longer experience the euphoria he or she associates with cocaine, and it may diminish their motivation to seek the drug.  A drug that helps a cocaine abuser to avoid relapse could be an important part of a multi-pronged therapeutic approach, which would include both behavioral modification and pharmacological treatment.

“It is not likely that any medication alone is going to enable a person to stop abusing cocaine,” Dr. Luedtke said.  “However, an inhibitor of the D3 dopamine receptor might represent a therapeutic tool for people who are committed to a rehabilitation process by blocking the rewarding effects of cocaine.”

Dr. Luedtke’s research is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and will be performed in collaboration with associates at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Arizona State University.

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