Many people recovering from a drug addiction still have to battle with their memories, which can tempt them to relapse months or even years after rehabilitation. For many recovering addicts, hope comes in the form of a radical new discovery that has the potential to help prevent relapse. Researchers have found an early drug candidate that could selectively erase drug-associated memories.
Researchers from the Scripps Institute detail this exciting discovery in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. They explain that recovering drug addicts can relapse when exposed to familiar triggers – memories they associate with drug use, for example. So, they decided to investigate whether these memories can be disrupted, without causing loss to any others.
Researchers were able to build on a previous study that identified the important role the protein actin plays in removing unwanted memories. As The Washington Post explains, actin supports the connection between brain neurons that form when you make a new memory. During this process, actin is able to quickly stabilize and secure the memory. Researchers realized, however, that this isn’t the case for memories created using amphetamines. They found that actin doesn't stabilize in meth-associated memories, leaving that memory particularly vulnerable. While researchers were able to take advantage of this vulnerability, they still had to overcome the challenge of targeting actin; the protein is particularly important throughout the entire body. Inhibiting actin in recovering drug addicts could, therefore, have disastrous consequences.
“That’s how muscles contract, the heart works, cells divide,” lead researcher Courtney Miller told The Washington Post. “So if we inhibited actin it would probably kill a person."
For the new study, Miller and her research team turned to another molecule called nonmuscle myosin IIB (myosin). The molecule helps actin form memories, but doesn’t affect other vital biological functions. They created a drug called Blebbistatin (Blebb) to disrupt myosin in meth-addicted mice. Researchers found that one dose of Blebb was enough to disrupt meth-associated memories for 30 days.
“We now have a viable target and by blocking that target, we can disrupt, and potentially erase, drug memories, leaving other memories intact,” Miller said in a statement.
“The hope is that, when combined with traditional rehabilitation and abstinence therapies, we can reduce or eliminate relapse for meth users after a single treatment by taking away the power of an individual’s triggers,” she added.
Researchers have to now test whether Blebb would work for other drugs and have to carry out studies on humans to make sure it’s safe for human use.
[H/T: Washington Post]