In animal study, 'cold turkey' withdrawal from drugs triggers mental decline

November 08, 2013

SAN DIEGO - Can quitting drugs without treatment trigger a decline in mental health? That appears to be the case in an animal model of morphine addiction. Georgetown University Medical Center researchers say their observations suggest that managing morphine withdrawal could promote a healthier mental state in people.

"Over time, drug-abusing individuals often develop mental disorders," says Italo Mocchetti, PhD, a professor of neuroscience. "It's been thought that drug abuse itself contributes to mental decline, but our findings suggest that 'quitting cold turkey' can also lead to damage."

In the study published in the November issue of Brain, Behavior and Immunity and presented at Neuroscience 2013, Mocchetti and his research colleagues treated the animals with morphine, or allowed them to undergo withdrawal by stopping the treatment. Then, they measured pro-inflammatory cytokines, which can promote damage and cell death, and the protein CCL5, which has various protective effects in the brain.

"Interestingly, we found that treating the addicted animals with morphine both increased the protective CCL5 protein while decreasing pro-inflammatory cytokines, suggesting a beneficial effect," Mocchetti explains. The animals that weren't treated during withdrawal had the opposite results -- decreased CCL5 and increased levels of the damaging cytokines.

"From these findings, it appears that morphine withdrawal may be a causative factor that leads to mental decline, presenting an important avenue for research in how we can better help people who are trying to quit using drugs," concludes Mocchetti.
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Lee A. Campbell, a PhD student in pharmacology in Mocchetti's lab, presented the study. Other authors include Valeriya Avdoshina, MD, PhD, and Summer Rozzi, a PhD student in Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at Georgetown University.

Grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (1F31DA032282 and 1R01DA026174) supported the research. Mocchetti and colleagues report having no personal financial interests related to the study. About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC's mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization, which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Georgetown University Medical Center

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