Medical researchers have long known that cocaine works by binding to brain cells, stopping those cells from absorbing the feel-good chemical known as dopamine. As dopamine accumulates between brain cells, feelings of reward and pleasure are enhanced.
Scientists have even identified regions on brain cells most affected by moderate to high doses of cocaine.
Now researchers at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, working with mice, believe they’ve found a specific receptor site (called BASP1) on brain cells that binds to cocaine, even at very low doses, blocking the uptake of dopamine.
They’ve also found that blocking this cocaine receptor site seems to reduce the stimulant effect of the drug – but only in males.
A report of this research can be found in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Why the difference between males and females?
The research team believes higher levels of the hormone estrogen in females may be to blame – perhaps making this discovery useful for males only. That fact is frustrating, given that females are more susceptible to cocaine abuse syndrome than men.
Where might this research lead?
The team at John Hopkins is now looking at drugs that can prevent cocaine from binding to BASP1 – thus serving as a treatment option for cocaine abuse syndrome.
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