Brain Molecule's Role in Addiction

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Brain Molecule and Addiction

A molecule in the brain essential for wakefulness and appetite has been found to play a central role in strengthening the neuron connections that lead to addiction. The discovery of how the neuropeptide orexin works at the molecular level makes it a strong new target for potential drugs to treat addiction, the researchers say.

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The discovery by neuroscientists at UCSF's Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center is being reported Feb. 16 in the journal Neuron.

The research focused on orexin's role in strengthening communication between neurons that release dopamine, a brain chemical central to learning and memory. The strengthened communication is known to play a key role in the experience of a drug high and subsequent drug craving.

Orexin is produced in the brain's lateral hypothalmus (LH) region. The scientists demonstrated in studies of rats that orexin acutely enhances the ability of receptors at dopamine neuron synapses

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