Protein Responsible for Cocaine Addiction Identified by Scientists

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Published: 01/16/2018 | Author:

Scientists from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai recently identified an immune-system protein that plays a major role in the onset of cocaine addiction. The protein, known as granulocyte-colony stimulating factor, or G-CSF, has been shown to trigger a mouse’s desire for cocaine specifically. This finding could lead to the development of new medications that treat cocaine dependence similarly to how drugs like methadone and buprenorphine treat opioid dependence.

Using the Protein to Treat Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine Addiction

In the study, G-CSF was linked to an increase in cocaine use in lab mice.

In the cocaine study published in the latest issue of Nature Communications, scientists injected test mice with repeated doses of cocaine and examined their immune system responses. It was found that mice treated with cocaine had higher levels of the G-CSF cytokine in their brains and bloodstreams.

The scientists then experimented with injecting G-CSF into the mice’s brain region associated with reward, and found that the protein caused mice to use more cocaine without seeking out a more natural reward in the form of sugar water. Scientists also experimented with injecting an antibody into the brain’s reward center that neutralizes G-CSF, and found that the antibody reduced the mice’s motivation to use more cocaine.

Lead study author Drew Kiraly, MD, PhD says this new finding is exciting in that it opens the door to new possible treatments for cocaine addiction on top of 12-step support groups and psychotherapy. Learning how to manipulate the G-CSF protein could lead to the development of medication-assisted treatments that can be used to treat cocaine use disorder, and reduce the number of Americans who suffer from cocaine addiction.

The Scope of Cocaine Use in the U.S.

Cocaine is used by roughly 1.5 million Americans and caused over 10,600 overdose deaths in 2016. The DEA recently announced that cocaine use in the U.S. is once again on the rise after being stable for many years on behalf of increased cocaine trafficking from Colombia. More than 92% of cocaine seized in the U.S. in 2016 originated in Colombia.

Cocaine use in the U.S. is expected to continue rising due to its low cost and widespread availability. A recent report showed that cocaine use is rising most steeply in Florida, with cocaine-related deaths having increased by 57% from 2015 to 2016. Cocaine is also being mixed with potent synthetic substances like fentanyl — an opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin that caused more than 20,000 overdose deaths across the U.S. in 2016.

Current Treatments for Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction is commonly treated using a medical detox and therapy. A medical detox for cocaine allows patients to withdraw from the drug while being monitored by nurses and doctors for withdrawal-related complications. Many times, patients are given medications that can relieve certain withdrawal symptoms, such as antidepressants to relieve depression.

At this time, there are no medications that treat cocaine dependence as a whole like there are medications that treat opioid dependence. Following a medical detox for cocaine, patients can receive therapy to overcome the root causes of their cocaine addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and support group therapy are examples of therapies used to help patients identify triggers and learn skills that prevent them from relapsing.

If you need help overcoming cocaine use disorder, we’re here to help you find the nearest affordable cocaine detox center. Call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193(Who Answers?) to speak with one of our caring drug abuse counselors, and learn more about detox treatments and therapies designed to help you achieve lifelong sobriety from cocaine and other substances.

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