Nav: Home

A wakefulness molecule is abundant in the brains of heroin addicts

June 27, 2018

Researchers have discovered that the brains of heroin addicts harbor a greater number of neurons that produce hypocretin, a molecule involved in arousal and wakefulness, and one lacking in abundance in people with narcolepsy. In mice with narcolepsy, these researchers went on to show, administering morphine - an opioid similar to heroin - reversed the symptom of cataplexy (loss of muscle tone), suggesting that altering hypocretin levels could potentially serve as a therapeutic strategy for treating narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a condition affecting approximately 200,000 people in the U.S., and is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy. Although scientists have developed treatments to address sleepiness and cataplexy, they do not restore normal function and can have unpleasant side effects. In previous studies, Thomas Thannickal and other researchers had found that narcolepsy was linked to a loss of hypocretin-producing neurons in the brain. Interestingly, they also noticed that the brain of a heroin addict enrolled in the study harbored more neurons producing hypocretin compared to other brains. Here, Thannickal and colleagues built on their previous work and investigated whether an abundance of hypocretin-producing neurons was characteristic of other opiate addicts. They studied postmortem brain tissue from four heroin addicts and found their brains exhibited an average 54% increase in hypocretin neurons compared to controls. Long-term administration of morphine to mice resulted in a similar increase in hypocretin neurons, an effect that persisted several weeks after morphine administration was halted. Turning back to narcolepsy, the authors found that administering morphine to narcoleptic mice deficient in hypocretin neurons restored hypocretin cell numbers and ameliorated cataplexy symptoms. Thannickal et al. say that future human trials should determine whether opiates or better yet, novel opiate-like compounds, could be used to restore hypocretin levels and treat narcoleptic patients. They also say that future research should investigate whether decreasing hypocretin levels could combat opiate addiction in humans.
-end-


American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related Neurons Articles:

New tool to identify and control neurons
One of the big challenges in the Neuroscience field is to understand how connections and communications trigger our behavior.
Neurons that regenerate, neurons that die
In a new study published in Neuron, investigators report on a transcription factor that they have found that can help certain neurons regenerate, while simultaneously killing others.
How neurons use crowdsourcing to make decisions
When many individual neurons collect data, how do they reach a unanimous decision?
Neurons can learn temporal patterns
Individual neurons can learn not only single responses to a particular signal, but also a series of reactions at precisely timed intervals.
A turbo engine for tracing neurons
Putting a turbo engine into an old car gives it an entirely new life -- suddenly it can go further, faster.
Brain neurons help keep track of time
Turning the theory of how the human brain perceives time on its head, a novel analysis in mice reveals that dopamine neuron activity plays a key role in judgment of time, slowing down the internal clock.
During infancy, neurons are still finding their places
Researchers have identified a large population of previously unrecognized young neurons that migrate in the human brain during the first few months of life, contributing to the expansion of the frontal lobe, a region important for social behavior and executive function.
How many types of neurons are there in the brain?
For decades, scientists have struggled to develop a comprehensive census of cell types in the brain.
Molecular body guards for neurons
In the brain, patterns of neural activity are perfectly balanced.
Engineering researchers use laser to 'weld' neurons
University of Alberta researchers have developed a method of connecting neurons, using ultrashort laser pulses -- a breakthrough technique that opens the door to new medical research and treatment opportunities.

Related Neurons Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".