In what could be the first steps towards drug addiction, the scientists have discovered that cocaine intake can change the brain structure within hours, hence, accelerating the craving for drugs.
A new study on mice, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, showed new structures linked to learning and memory began growing soon after the drug was taken.
The study found that mice with the most brain changes showed a greater preference for cocaine.
Researcher Linda Wilbrecht, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley, said, “Our images provide clear evidence that cocaine induces rapid gains in new spines, and the more spines the mice gain, the more they show they learned about the drug. This gives us a possible mechanism for how drug use fuels further drug-seeking behaviour. These drug-induced changes in the brain may explain how drug-related cues come to dominate decision making in a human drug user.”
The researchers used microscope to peer directly into the brain’s nerve cells of living mice. Within two hours of administering the drug, they observed a significant increase in the density of dendritic spines, which are responsible for signaling, in the frontal cortex. Conversely, mice given saline solution displayed no such increase.
There also appeared to be a relationship between the growth of dendritic spines and drug. Mice that grew the most spines developed the strongest preference for returning to the enclosure where they received cocaine.