Cocaine in the brain


Cocaine is the most addictive drug in the illegal market, yet how does a simple plant product like cocaine commandeer susceptible brains? Bertha K. Madras at Harvald Medical School investigated cocaine in the brain after intravenous administration and found that the highest concentrations localize in brain regions rich in dopamine, a brain messenger. These same brain areas are involved in emotional, reward, motor and hormone function. When released by a nerve cell, dopamine transmits vital information to target cells; then the signal is rapidly terminated by a carrier that transports dopamine back to its original cell -- a process called "re-uptake". Cocaine appears to target this transport system by lodging on the transporter and blocking dopamine re-uptake. Nerve cells become flooded with dopamine and its messages; this dopamine flood is believed to create the sensations associated with cocaine use. Madras' research suggests not only that cocaine abuse might be treated with drugs targeted to brain dopamine system, but also that dopamine is a key contributor to certain addictive behaviors.

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