Magazine article Science News

Vaccine Triggers Cocaine Mop-Up in Rats

Magazine article Science News

Vaccine Triggers Cocaine Mop-Up in Rats

Article excerpt

For all the millions of dollars spent to find a way to halt cocaine abuse, physicians still lack a useful medicine to break the drug's addictive power. The exact site and chemistry of addiction remain a puzzle. Moreover, many of the brain pathways influenced by cocaine coincide with paths essential to normal function, so targeting one can knock out the other.

Now, researchers report that they can mop up cocaine in the bloodstream of rats before it reaches the brain.

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., have developed a vaccine that calls up antibodies against the drug, resulting in antibody-cocaine complexes too unwieldy to enter the rats' brains. Cocaine itself rarely sparks an immune reaction. But by linking the part of cocaine that antibodies recognize to a molecule that triggers antibody production, the researchers made a vaccine that halves the concentration of free cocaine in the rats' blood.

Cocaine in the brain drops accordingly.

In the study, published in the Dec. 14 Nature, scientists injected rats with the experimental vaccine or with a form missing the cocaine component. Next, they gave the animals a dose of cocaine. Animals in the first group had 77 percent less cocaine in the cerebellum-a site of the drug's action-than the controls did.

"Blocking cocaine by keeping it outside the brain should have fewer side effects than manipulating the way it behaves at specific nerve sites inside," says Scripps researcher George F. Koob. Drugs that work in the brain can stop people from taking cocaine, he explains, but they also make people unable to move.

The researchers observed the rats' behavior to determine whether cocaine had reached the brain. …

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