Scientists “Erase” Opioid Addiction in Mice

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences say that they’ve found a way to “erase” morphine-associated memories from the brains of mice, removing the motivation to use.

Research surrounding addiction often points to the reward of a “high” as the primary motivation for drug use and relapse. However, it’s often the acute symptoms of withdrawal, including nausea, vomiting, pain and cramping, that drives a return to drugs for relief. The most difficult part of treating addiction is to prevent relapse, especially for opioids.

Researchers from the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology (SIAT) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Stanford University interrupted the brain pathway responsible for morphine-associated memories in mice, that is, “erasing” the drug-associated memory from the brain.

The researchers put the mice in a two-sided chamber for training. They were given saline on the one side, and a small dose of morphine on the other side. After five days, the mice unsurprisingly developed a compulsive preference for the chamber with morphine and were considered addicted.

Then, by using light from an optical fiber, the scientists could turn the paraventricular thalamus (PVT) pathway off to alleviate opiate withdrawal symptoms.

Even when morphine was reintroduced to the chamber, the mice still did not preferentially go there, and this held true even two weeks later. It was as if the animals had completely forgotten the effects—both good and bad—of the drug.

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