Scripps team finds a drug that fights addiction by eliminating memories

Scripps' team targeting drug addiction memories

The memories addicts have about taking drugs tend to linger as one of the big hurdles in fighting drug addiction, constantly beckoning an addict to re-experience the highs that got him hooked in the first place. But a team of researchers at Scripps' Florida campus set out to find a drug that could selectively extinguish those memories, and just took a big step toward getting a therapy in the clinic.

A couple of years ago the team led by TSRI Associate Professor Courtney Miller concluded that it was possible to specifically shutter an addict's memories about taking drugs by targeting actin, a protein that plays a key role in memory formation. The problem, they explained, is that actin is also needed for a wide variety of biologic functions, and targeting it would likely kill the patient before he was cured.

Now, they say, they believe they found an ideal target: non-muscle myosin II. And they created a new compound--blebbistatin--to act on the target and selectively extinguish drug-related memories. The drug was recently tested successfully on mouse models for meth addiction, without evidently scrambling other non-drug related memories.

"We now have a viable target and by blocking that target, we can disrupt, and potentially erase, drug memories, leaving other memories intact," said TSRI Associate Professor Courtney Miller. "The hope is that, when combined with traditional rehabilitation and abstinence therapies, we can reduce or eliminate relapse for meth users after a single treatment by taking away the power of an individual's triggers."

One of the advantages of blebbistatin is that it doesn't have to be injected directly into the brain, allowing for easier administration.

Obviously a drug like this would have to face a long and arduous clinical pathway before anyone could think about prescribing it for humans. But the investigators believe that they're following a promising path.

"Our results argue for developing small molecule inhibitors of nonmuscle myosin II as potential therapeutics for relapse prevention, and that's exactly what we're doing with our colleagues here at Scripps with expertise in drug development," said research associate Sherri Briggs.

The study was published in Molecular Psychiatry.

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