Study shows how methamphetamine destroys cells throughout the body

Methamphetamine is such a "perfect storm toxin," in the words of one researcher, that it is not enough to simply study the effect of this devastating drug on the brain alone. Meth is a poison that does damage to so many other cells in the body. And now, thanks to that old workhorse of the biotech age, the fruit fly, scientists now know a little more about the drug's whole-body effects.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, writing in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, describe how they exposed fruit flies to meth and then tracked changes in the expression of genes and proteins. This was different from previous research into the effects of meth because it looked at molecular changes throughout the whole body, the researchers said.

"This is important because we know that methamphetamine influences cellular processes associated with aging, it affects spermatogenesis, and it impacts the heart. One could almost call meth a perfect storm toxin because it does so much damage to so many different tissues in the body," University of Illinois entomology professor Barry Pittendrigh said in a statement.

The researchers found that meth exposure influenced, among other things, molecular pathways associated with energy generation, sugar metabolism, sperm cell formation and cell structure. They also saw changes in cell metabolism that is similar to changes seen in rapidly growing cancer cells. The researchers also found that the fruit flies lived longer if they consumed trehalose, which is a blood sugar in insects. This could explain why meth users crave sugary drinks, said lead author Lijie Sun in a statement. "And now we have evidence that increased sugar intake has a direct impact on reducing the toxicity of meth, at least in flies."

The researchers also concluded that the fruit fly is an excellent model for further studies of the toxic effects of methamphetamine on the molecular level.

- read the release from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- and the full text of the study in PLoS ONE