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12 November 2013

Drug Problem

Unpicking the cause of schizophrenia is complicated, but the brain chemical dopamine (pictured are crystals of the chemical viewed with polarised light) is known to underlie one of the key characteristics of the disease: psychosis. That said scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how. Antipsychotic medication typically blocks receptors in the dopamine pathway. For many, this quashes some of the unpleasant symptoms – hallucinations, delusions, thought and movement disorders. For millions of others the drugs don’t work. Researchers recently scanned the brains of over 600 patients with schizophrenia and found that overproduction of dopamine is central to psychosis. They suggest that drug treatment could be more effective were it to tackle dopamine synthesis, rather than targeting the receptors to which dopamine binds once it has already been made.

Written by Brona McVitti

Image by Spike Walker
Wellcome Images
Originally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Research published in Archives of General Psychiatry, August 2012

neurosciencestuff:

Addiction starts with an overcorrection in the brain
The National Institutes of Health has turned to neuroscientists at the nation’s most “Stone Cold Sober” university for help finding ways to treat drug and alcohol addiction.
Brigham Young University professor Scott Steffensen and his collaborators have published three new scientific papers that detail the brain mechanisms involved with addictive substances. And the NIH thinks Steffensen’s on the right track, as evidenced by a $2-million grant that will help fund projects in his BYU lab for the next five years.
“Addiction is a brain disease that could be treated like any other disease,” Steffensen said. “I wouldn’t be as motivated to do this research, or as passionate about the work, if I didn’t think a cure was possible.” 
Steffensen’s research suggests that the process of a brain becoming addicted is similar to a driver overcorrecting a vehicle. When drugs and alcohol release unnaturally high levels of dopamine in the brain’s pleasure system, oxidative stress occurs in the brain.
Steffensen and his collaborators have found that the brain responds by generating a protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). This correction suppresses the brain’s normal production of dopamine long after someone comes down from a high. Not having enough dopamine is what causes the pains, distress and anxiety of withdrawal.
“The body attempts to compensate for unnatural levels of dopamine, but a pathological process occurs,” Steffensen said. “We think it all centers around a subset of neurons that ordinarily put the brakes on dopamine release.”
A group of undergraduate students work in Steffensen’s lab along with post-doctoral fellows and graduate students. Jennifer Blanchard Mabey, a graduate student in neuroscience, co-authored a paper about withdrawal that is in the current issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
“It’s rewarding to see that your research efforts place another small piece in the enormous addiction puzzle,” said Mabey.
A separate study, co-authored by Steffensen and Ph.D. candidates Nathan Schilaty and David Hedges, explains how nicotine and alcohol interact in the brain.
“Addiction is a huge concern in our society and is very misunderstood,” Schilaty said. “Our research is helping us to formulate ideas on how we can better help these individuals through non-invasive and non-pharmacological means.”
Eun Young Jang, a post-doctoral fellow in Steffensen’s lab, authored a third paper for Addiction Biology describing the effects of cocaine addiction on the brain’s reward circuitry.
In these three research papers, dopamine is the common thread.
“I am optimistic that in the near future medical science will be able to reverse the brain changes in dopamine transmission that occur with drug dependence and return an ‘addict’ to a relatively normal state,” Steffensen said. “Then the addict will be in a better position to make rational decisions regarding their behavior and will be empowered to remain drug free.”
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II
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neurosciencestuff:

Addiction starts with an overcorrection in the brain

The National Institutes of Health has turned to neuroscientists at the nation’s most “Stone Cold Sober” university for help finding ways to treat drug and alcohol addiction.

Brigham Young University professor Scott Steffensen and his collaborators have published three new scientific papers that detail the brain mechanisms involved with addictive substances. And the NIH thinks Steffensen’s on the right track, as evidenced by a $2-million grant that will help fund projects in his BYU lab for the next five years.

“Addiction is a brain disease that could be treated like any other disease,” Steffensen said. “I wouldn’t be as motivated to do this research, or as passionate about the work, if I didn’t think a cure was possible.” 

Steffensen’s research suggests that the process of a brain becoming addicted is similar to a driver overcorrecting a vehicle. When drugs and alcohol release unnaturally high levels of dopamine in the brain’s pleasure system, oxidative stress occurs in the brain.

Steffensen and his collaborators have found that the brain responds by generating a protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). This correction suppresses the brain’s normal production of dopamine long after someone comes down from a high. Not having enough dopamine is what causes the pains, distress and anxiety of withdrawal.

“The body attempts to compensate for unnatural levels of dopamine, but a pathological process occurs,” Steffensen said. “We think it all centers around a subset of neurons that ordinarily put the brakes on dopamine release.”

A group of undergraduate students work in Steffensen’s lab along with post-doctoral fellows and graduate students. Jennifer Blanchard Mabey, a graduate student in neuroscience, co-authored a paper about withdrawal that is in the current issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

“It’s rewarding to see that your research efforts place another small piece in the enormous addiction puzzle,” said Mabey.

A separate study, co-authored by Steffensen and Ph.D. candidates Nathan Schilaty and David Hedges, explains how nicotine and alcohol interact in the brain.

“Addiction is a huge concern in our society and is very misunderstood,” Schilaty said. “Our research is helping us to formulate ideas on how we can better help these individuals through non-invasive and non-pharmacological means.”

Eun Young Jang, a post-doctoral fellow in Steffensen’s lab, authored a third paper for Addiction Biology describing the effects of cocaine addiction on the brain’s reward circuitry.

In these three research papers, dopamine is the common thread.

“I am optimistic that in the near future medical science will be able to reverse the brain changes in dopamine transmission that occur with drug dependence and return an ‘addict’ to a relatively normal state,” Steffensen said. “Then the addict will be in a better position to make rational decisions regarding their behavior and will be empowered to remain drug free.”

artandsciencejournal:

A Form of Happiness: Dopamine

We have all felt the rush and experienced the feeling of happiness, and Speculative Design artist Jessica Charlesworth, along with her husband, Product Designer Tim Parsons, has made it tangible. The couples’ A Form of Happiness project has masterfully resulted in their creation of a wood and magnetic representation of the neurotransmitter responsible for releasing the chemical that fuels our desire for happiness. The effects of the organic chemical, dopamine, are likened to the euphoric feeling and pleasurable physical reaction to things such as searching through sale racks while shopping, enjoying a delicious meal, or the pleasure received from engaging in sexual activity.

A Form of Happiness, displayed as the physical model of dopamine, is part of a kit that allows user to assemble the wooden pieces into the chemical compound strand. Each part is held together by embedded neodymium magnets. The kit includes examples of the various roles that the physical piece could take on and provides a more vivid display of what occurs during moments when dopamine is released. Charlesworth and Parsons pose the question, ‘What makes you happy?’ and while the answers will vary by person, as their model and kit prove, the feeling is the same for everyone. Happiness is a simple chemical reaction we seek it throughout life; a chemical bit of magic. 

Visit Jessica Charlesworth’s Portfolio

- Lee Jones

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