Genetics May Play a Role in How the Brain Handles its Response to Drugs

More studies are showing that exposure to cocaine during adolescence causes the brain to naturally defend itself and reduce the drug’s negative effects. Recent Yale studies showed that genetics might play a bigger role in how the body regulates its response to cocaine, according to an online news article. Using test mice, the researchers found that any interference in this natural process causes more sensitivity to the illegal drug.

The findings show that there is obviously a higher risk of drug abuse and even addiction when teenagers dabble with illegal drugs like cocaine. In the Feb. 14 and Feb. 21 issues of Journal of Neuroscience, researchers discuss the reason for this sensitivity. During adolescence, the brain is transitioning between an explosive growth phase and a plastic growth phase as compared to the refined and settled neural connections found in adults.

During the first experience with cocaine, Yale studies show that adolescent neurons and synaptic connectors change their shape because of an integrin betal gene. This particular gene is crucial in the development of vertebrates’ nervous systems. When researchers blocked out the pathway to this particular gene, they found that it took nearly three times less cocaine to trigger effects.

This test in itself gives reason to believe that the strength of the integrin betal pathway plays a role in why some users develop an addiction to cocaine while others do not. The verbosity of the gene obviously plays a role in the addiction process. Understanding how this gene works is helping researchers plan other studies to show how this gene and others perform against other drugs.