(Jan. 10, 2019) -- Researchers at UTSA have revealed significant insight into cocaine addiction, a phenomenon which has grown significantly in the United States since 2015.
Now new data by UTSA shows how the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine changes when working for cocaine. Our brains naturally release dopamine to reward us for working hard for something gratifying, for example, enjoying a sweet piece of chocolate. Yet when it comes to illicit substances such as cocaine, the harder the effort put into getting cocaine, the less likely there will be a large jolt of dopamine.
With the new understanding that there is a difference between how the brain responds to additional effort in relation to a specific object of desire, either food vs. illicit drugs, the UTSA data suggests that this new finding into the dopamine production complex could help guide future solutions for drug addiction.
“By identifying these differences, you can come up with pharmacological or behavior strategies so you can maintain normal responses for natural rewards but at the same time manage the responses for drugs,” says Matthew Wanat, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at UTSA.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays key roles in the brain and body. The chemical messenger is involved in regulating physical movement. It’s a catalyst for a person to be able to engage in motivated behaviors and also facilitates learning. Scientific studies show that a disruption in dopamine production can lead to neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s but also drug addiction.
Wanat’s previous research showed that there is a larger dopamine response when we delay gratification for food. Now his work on cocaine adds another dimension which can aid to solve the complex puzzle of the impact of illicit drug use on brain chemistry. The latest UTSA research will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
Professor Wanat and post-doctoral fellow Idaira Oliva, the lead researcher on the project, used rats that were trained to work for infusions of cocaine. The rodents in order to obtain the desired stimulant, had to engage in a progressive series of nose pokes before getting another dose of cocaine. Later, voltammetry measurements of the dopamine levels in the rats’ brain were taken while they worked to obtain cocaine.
As to why there is an opposite effect of dopamine surge in cocaine usage with added effort is still not fully understood. However, UTSA scientists don’t necessarily think it’s related to the actual drug.
“We think there might be a change in the subjective value. It’s just perceived as less valuable. It fits in with the idea that you don’t like the drug as much,” says Wanat. “They (drug users) want it but they don’t like it as much as they would.”
Although much of the recent drug crisis which impacts the country has centered on opioids, cocaine usage in the United States has surged since 2015. The latest Centers for Disease Control data suggests that after marijuana, cocaine is the second most abused illicit drug, and deaths have grown by 37%. Moreover, the DEA shows that another factor for increased cocaine usage is the boom in global cultivation and coca production of the psychostimulant.
The independent effects of illicit drugs are difficult to tease out. Many drug users tend to rely on several abused substances and the interplay between them and the combined impact on the body is not understood. For now, researchers at UTSA will still continue future investigations on what beyond dopamine causes addiction.
“This effect is not due to cocaine levels in the brain, it’s something upstream to what’s getting the dopamine neurons to fire,” says Wanat.
Learn more about the neurobiology of motivated behavior being researched in the Wanat Lab.
See what breakthroughs UTSA researchers are discovering through the UTSA Brain Health Consortium.
Learn more about the UTSA Neuroscience Institute.
In honor of UTSA's 50th Anniversary in 2019, the university is hosting Roadrunner Days Spring Edition - two weeks of semester-launching activities built around our deeply held values of student success, student involvement, community service and fun!Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
All UTSA students, faculty, staff, alums & families are invited to march as a unified community. Register here: bit.ly/2TYbHbR. Shuttles will be provided from the Main and Downtown Campuses.Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy, 3501 MLK Dr., San Antonio
UTSA's John Nix invites the community to sing "Amazing Grace" and “We Shall Overcome” at 11 a.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The intent of this nationwide effort is to honor Dr. King's legacy and to spread a sense of community in the United States.Locations throughout the United States
Opening Reception got exhibit featuring artists Miguel Aragon, Aaron Coleman, Sandra Fernandez, Annalise Gratovich, Marco Hernandez, Kristen Powers Nowlin, & Patricia Villalobos EcheverriaMain Art Gallery, Arts Building (ART 2.03.04), Main Campus
Tracy Cowden, Roland K. Blumberg Endowed Professor in Music and chair of the UTSA Department of Music launches the UTSA 50th Anniversary Scholars Speaker Series with Music as Medicine: The Power and Influence of Music on our Health.Radius Center, 106 Auditorium Cir. #120, San Antonio
UTSA African American Studies Program presents this series featuring Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University.Student Union Retama Auditorium (SU 2.02.02), Main Campus)
Join fellow Runners to walk for 10 minutes on the Main Campus. The event reminds us of the importance of exercise, diet and healthy habits in protecting our hearts.Outside the North Paseo Building, Main Campus
The annual event features authentic foods, music, dance, martial arts, shopping, games and entertainment from China, to the Indian Sub-continent, and the island nations of the Pacific. The Festival features two stages, a martial arts demonstration area, children’s hands on crafting area, anime activities, bonsai and ikebana displays, mahjong table and more.UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
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