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Concept: Cocaine


Neuroimaging studies using positron emission tomography suggest that reduced dopamine D(2) receptor availability in the neostriatum is associated with increased vulnerability to drug addiction in humans and experimental animals. The role of D(3) receptors (D(3)Rs) in the neurobiology of addiction remains unclear, however. Here we report that D(3)R KO (D(3)(-/-)) mice display enhanced cocaine self-administration and enhanced motivation for cocaine-taking and cocaine-seeking behavior. This increased vulnerability to cocaine is accompanied by decreased dopamine response to cocaine secondary to increased basal levels of extracellular dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, suggesting a compensatory response to decreased cocaine reward in D(3)(-/-) mice. In addition, D(3)(-/-) mice also display up-regulation of dopamine transporters in the striatum, suggesting a neuroadaptative attempt to normalize elevated basal extracellular dopamine. These findings suggest that D(3)R deletion increases vulnerability to cocaine, and that reduced D(3)R availability in the brain may constitute a risk factor for the development of cocaine addiction.

Concepts: Ventral tegmental area, Positron emission tomography, Substantia nigra, Drug addiction, Dopamine, Nucleus accumbens, Putamen, Cocaine


The anti-alcoholism medication, disulfiram (Antabuse), decreases cocaine use in humans regardless of concurrent alcohol consumption and facilitates cocaine sensitization in rats, but the functional targets are unknown. Disulfiram inhibits dopamine β-hydroxylase (DBH), the enzyme that converts dopamine (DA) to norepinephrine (NE) in noradrenergic neurons. The goal of this study was to test the effects of chronic genetic or pharmacological DBH inhibition on behavioral responses to cocaine using DBH knockout (Dbh -/-) mice, disulfiram, and the selective DBH inhibitor, nepicastat. Locomotor activity was measured in control (Dbh +/-) and Dbh -/- mice during a 5 day regimen of saline+saline, disulfiram+saline, nepicastat+saline, saline+cocaine, disulfiram+cocaine, or nepicastat+cocaine. After a 10 day withdrawal period, all groups were administered cocaine, and locomotor activity and stereotypy were measured. Drug-naïve Dbh -/- mice were hypersensitive to cocaine-induced locomotion and resembled cocaine-sensitized Dbh +/- mice. Chronic disulfiram administration facilitated cocaine-induced locomotion in some mice and induced stereotypy in others during the development of sensitization, while cocaine-induced stereotypy was evident in all nepicastat-treated mice. Cocaine-induced stereotypy was profoundly increased in the disulfiram+cocaine, nepicastat+cocaine, and nepicastat+saline groups upon cocaine challenge after withdrawal in Dbh +/- mice. Disulfiram or nepicastat treatment had no effect on behavioral responses to cocaine in Dbh -/- mice. These results demonstrate that chronic DBH inhibition facilitates behavioral responses to cocaine, although different methods of inhibition (genetic vs. non-selective inhibitor vs. selective inhibitor) enhance qualitatively different cocaine-induced behaviors.

Concepts: Alcoholism, Nicotine, Enzyme inhibitor, Neurotransmitter, Inhibitor, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Cocaine


Modafinil, in its two clinical formulations (Provigil(®) and Nuvigil(®)), is a widely prescribed wake-promoting therapeutic agent. It binds competitively to the cell-membrane dopamine (DA) transporter and is dependent on catecholaminergic (dopaminergic and adrenergic) signaling for its wake-promoting effects. The clinical spectrum of effects for modafinil is distinct from the effects seen with other catecholaminergic agents. Relative to other commonly used agents that act through catecholaminergic mechanisms, modafinil has a relatively low abuse potential, produces wakefulness with an attenuated compensatory sleep recovery thereafter, and does not ameliorate cataplexy in narcolepsy. These clinically relevant phenomenological differences between modafinil and agents such as amphetamines and cocaine do not eliminate catecholaminergic effects as a possible mediator of its wake-promoting action; they merely reflect its unique pharmacological profile. Modafinil is an exceptionally weak, but apparently very selective, DA transporter inhibitor. The pharmacodynamic response to modafinil, as measured by DA levels in brain microdialyzate, is protracted relative to other agents that act via catecholaminergic mechanisms. The conformational constraints on the interaction of modafinil with the DA transporter - and probably, as a consequence, its effects on trace amine receptor signaling in the catecholaminergic cell - are unique among catecholaminergic agents. These unique pharmacological properties of modafinil should be considered both in seeking to thoroughly understand its putatively elusive mechanism of action and in the design of novel therapeutic agents.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Narcolepsy, Therapeutic index


The tropane and granatane alkaloids belong to the larger pyrroline and piperidine classes of plant alkaloids, respectively. Their core structures share common moieties and their scattered distribution among angiosperms suggest that their biosynthesis may share common ancestry in some orders, while they may be independently derived in others. Tropane and granatane alkaloid diversity arises from the myriad modifications occurring to their core ring structures. Throughout much of human history, humans have cultivated tropane- and granatane-producing plants for their medicinal properties. This manuscript will discuss the diversity of their biological and ecological roles as well as what is known about the structural genes and enzymes responsible for their biosynthesis. In addition, modern approaches to producing some pharmaceutically important tropanes via metabolic engineering endeavors are discussed.

Concepts: Agriculture, Evolution, Biology, Species, Fungus, Cocaine, Alkaloid, Tropane


Mephedrone (MEPH) is a β-ketoamphetamine stimulant drug of abuse that is often a constituent of illicit bath salts formulations. While MEPH bears remarkable similarities to methamphetamine (METH) in terms of chemical structure, as well as its neurochemical and behavioral effects, it has been shown to have a reduced neurotoxic profile compared to METH. The addition of a β-keto moiety and a 4-methyl ring substituent to METH yields MEPH, and a loss of direct neurotoxic potential. In the present study, 2 analogs of METH, methcathinone (MeCa) and 4-methylmethamphetamine (4MM), were assessed for their effects on mouse dopamine (DA) nerve endings to determine the relative contribution of each individual moiety to the loss of direct neurotoxicity in MEPH. Both MeCa and 4MM caused significant alterations in core body temperature as well as locomotor activity and stereotypy, but 4MM was found to elicit minimal dopaminergic toxicity only at the highest dose. By contrast, MeCa caused significant reductions in all markers of DA nerve ending damage over a range of doses. These results lead to the conclusion that ring substitution at the 4-position profoundly reduces the neurotoxicity of METH, whereas the β-keto group has much less influence on this property. While the mechanism(s) by which the 4-methyl substituent reduces METH-induced neurotoxicity remains unclear, it is speculated that this effect is mediated by a loss of DA-releasing action in MEPH and 4MM at the synaptic vesicle monoamine transporter, an effect that is thought to be critical for METH-induced neurotoxicity.

Concepts: Nervous system, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Nerve, Stimulant, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Narcolepsy, Methcathinone


This study provides a demonstration in the rat of a clear genetic difference in the propensity for addiction-related behaviors following prolonged cocaine self-administration. It relies on the use of selectively bred high-responder (bHR) and low-responder (bLR) rat lines that differ in several characteristics associated with “temperament,” including novelty-induced locomotion and impulsivity. We show that bHR rats exhibit behaviors reminiscent of human addiction, including persistent cocaine-seeking and increased reinstatement of cocaine seeking. To uncover potential underlying mechanisms of this differential vulnerability, we focused on the core of the nucleus accumbens and examined expression and epigenetic regulation of two transcripts previously implicated in bHR/bLR differences: fibroblast growth factor (FGF2) and the dopamine D2 receptor (D2). Relative to bHRs, bLRs had lower FGF2 mRNA levels and increased association of a repressive mark on histones (H3K9me3) at the FGF2 promoter. These differences were apparent under basal conditions and persisted even following prolonged cocaine self-administration. In contrast, bHRs had lower D2 mRNA under basal conditions, with greater association of H3K9me3 at the D2 promoter and these differences were no longer apparent following prolonged cocaine self-administration. Correlational analyses indicate that the association of H3K9me3 at D2 may be a critical substrate underlying the propensity to relapse. These findings suggest that low D2 mRNA levels in the nucleus accumbens core, likely mediated via epigenetic modifications, may render individuals more susceptible to cocaine addiction. In contrast, low FGF2 levels, which appear immutable even following prolonged cocaine exposure, may serve as a protective factor.

Concepts: DNA, Ventral tegmental area, Gene expression, Basal ganglia, Substantia nigra, Dopamine, Nucleus accumbens, Cocaine


Altered states of consciousness, such as psychotic or pharmacologically-induced hallucinations, provide a unique opportunity to examine the mechanisms underlying conscious perception. However, the phenomenological properties of these states are difficult to isolate experimentally from other, more general physiological and cognitive effects of psychoactive substances or psychopathological conditions. Thus, simulating phenomenological aspects of altered states in the absence of these other more general effects provides an important experimental tool for consciousness science and psychiatry. Here we describe such a tool, which we call the Hallucination Machine. It comprises a novel combination of two powerful technologies: deep convolutional neural networks (DCNNs) and panoramic videos of natural scenes, viewed immersively through a head-mounted display (panoramic VR). By doing this, we are able to simulate visual hallucinatory experiences in a biologically plausible and ecologically valid way. Two experiments illustrate potential applications of the Hallucination Machine. First, we show that the system induces visual phenomenology qualitatively similar to classical psychedelics. In a second experiment, we find that simulated hallucinations do not evoke the temporal distortion commonly associated with altered states. Overall, the Hallucination Machine offers a valuable new technique for simulating altered phenomenology without directly altering the underlying neurophysiology.

Concepts: Mind, Consciousness, Experiment, Hallucination, Psychosis, Simulated reality, Cocaine, Hallucinations in the sane


Addiction to cocaine is commonly preceded by experiences with legal or decriminalized drugs, such as alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana. The biological mechanisms by which these gateway drugs contribute to cocaine addiction are only beginning to be understood. We report that in the rat, prior alcohol consumption results in enhanced addiction-like behavior to cocaine, including continued cocaine use despite aversive consequences. Conversely, prior cocaine use has no effect on alcohol preference. Long-term, but not short-term, alcohol consumption promotes proteasome-mediated degradation of the nuclear histone deacetylases HDAC4 and HDAC5 in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region critical for reward-based memory. Decreased nuclear HDAC activity results in global H3 acetylation, creating a permissive environment for cocaine-induced gene expression. We also find that selective degradation of HDAC4 and HDAC5, facilitated by the class II-specific HDAC inhibitor MC1568, enhances compulsive cocaine self-administration. These results parallel our previously reported findings that the gateway drug nicotine enhances the behavioral effects of cocaine via HDAC inhibition. Together, our findings suggest a shared mechanism of action for the gateway drugs alcohol and nicotine, and reveal a novel mechanism by which environmental factors may alter the epigenetic landscape of the reward system to increase vulnerability to cocaine addiction.

Concepts: Ventral tegmental area, Histone, Histone deacetylase, Drug addiction, Dopamine, Mesolimbic pathway, Psychoactive drug, Cocaine


A century after the Harrison Narcotic Act took effect in the United States, its bias against maintenance therapy continues to hinder medical efforts to ameliorate the effects of our country’s latest narcotic-addiction epidemic.

Concepts: United States, Poverty in the United States, U.S. state, Drug addiction, Heroin, Cocaine, Federal republic


Complexation of alkaloids is an important strategy plants utilize to facilitate storage in vacuoles and avoid autotoxicity. Previous studies have implicated hydroxycinnamoyl quinate esters in the complexation of purine alkaloids in Coffea arabica. The goal of this study was to determine if Erythroxylum coca uses similar complexation agents to store abundant tropane alkaloids, such as cocaine and cinnamoyl cocaine. Metabolite analysis of various E. coca organs established a close correlation between levels of coca alkaloids and those of two hydroxycinnamoyl esters of quinic acid, chlorogenic acid and 4-coumaroyl quinate. The BAHD acyltransferase catalyzing the final step in hydroxycinnamoyl quinate biosynthesis was isolated and characterized, and its gene expression found to correlate with tropane alkaloid accumulation. A physical interaction between chlorogenic acid and cocaine was observed and quantified in vitro using UV and NMR spectroscopic methods yielding similar values to those reported for a caffeine chlorogenate complex in C. arabica. These results suggest that storage of cocaine and other coca alkaloids in large quantities in E. coca involves hydroxycinnamoyl quinate esters as complexation partners.

Concepts: Coffee, Caffeine, Cocaine, Alkaloid, Chlorogenic acid, Quinic acid, Tropane, Tropane alkaloid