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Aug 05, 2015 04:08 PM EDT

New Therapy Could Prevent Addiction Relapse By Erasing Drug-Associated Memories

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Erasing memories could prevent recovering drug addicts from relapsing, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have made a discovery that brings them closer to a new therapy based on selectively erasing these dangerous and tenacious drug-associated memories.

"We now have a viable target and by blocking that target, we can disrupt, and potentially erase, drug memories, leaving other memories intact," Associate Professor Courtney Miller said in a statement. "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."

The current study, which builds on previous work in Miller's lab, demonstrates the effectiveness of a single injection of an early drug candidate called blebbistatin in preventing relapse in animal models of meth addiction.

Miller and her colleagues report a major advance--the discovery of a safe route to selectively targeting brain actin through nonmuscle myosin II (NMII), a molecular motor that supports memory formation. To accomplish this, the researchers used a compound called blebbistatin that acts on this protein.

The results showed that a single injection of blebbistatin successfully disrupted long-term storage of drug-related memories--and blocked relapse for at least a month in animal models of methamphetamine addiction.

"What makes myosin II such an exciting therapeutic target is that a single injection of blebbistatin makes methamphetamine-associated memories go away, along with dendritic spines, the structures in the brain that store memory," Erica Young, research associate and a key author of the new study, said in a statement.

The findings are detailed in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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