This latest piece of research that has come from the University of Western Ontario, courtesy of the Canadians, is both interesting and groundbreaking. Neuroscientists have discovered an underlying molecular process by which opiate addiction actually develops in the brain. Opiate addiction is perhaps best described as largely being controlled by the formation of powerful reward memories that link the pleasurable effects of opiate-class drugs to environmental triggers that create drug cravings in people addicted to opiates.
The research group was led by Steven Laviolette of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. The research team were able to demonstrate and identify how the exposure to heroin induces a specific switch in a memory molecule in a region of the brain called the basolateral amygdala – which is involved in controlling memories related to opiate addiction, withdrawal, and relapse. The team used a rodent model of opiate addiction; they found that the process of opiate addiction and withdrawal triggered a switch between two molecular pathways in the amygdala controlling how opiate addiction memories were formed.
Further excerpts from the research provide greater understanding on the discovery:
‘...In the non-dependent state, they found that a molecule called extracellular signal-related kinase or "ERK" was recruited for early stage addiction memories. However, once opiate addiction had developed, the scientists observed a functional switch to a separate molecular memory pathway, controlled by a molecule called calmodulin-dependent kinase II or "CaMKII.
“These findings will shed important new light on how the brain is altered by opiate drugs and provide exciting new targets for the development of novel pharmacotherapeutic treatments for individuals suffering from chronic opiate addiction”, says Laviolette, an associate professor in the Departments of Anatomy & Cell Biology, Psychiatry, and Psychology...’.
These results from this new research are indeed impressive and promising; not only as a discovery but also for the future of the human understanding of opiate addiction and how opiates affect our brain chemistry. We could imagine having the neuro-chemical capability in the future of being able to alter or control how these molecules create changes in the brain, and how they develop both dependence and addiction from opiates and other drugs. More and more advancement in this area will likely yield wonderful new discovered over the next decade and this period is truly an exciting time for researchers and for recovering addicts. The more investment we can pour into medical research and addiction research will, in my hope, give us even greater power in the fight again not only opiate addiction but addictions of all types in the broadest sense.