Yale research finds that when an adolescent is first exposed to cocaine, their brain launches a strong defensive reaction designed to minimize the drug’s effect. According to Health News, the Yale team identified key genes that regulate this response, showing that interring with this response dramatically reduced a mouse’s sensitivity to cocaine.
These findings may explain why addiction and drug abuse increase dramatically when cocaine use begins during the teen years. The study concluded that vulnerability to cocaine is much higher in adolescence, when the brain is shifting from an explosive and plastic growth phase to one of more refined and settled neural connection associated with adults.
Past studies at Yale have showed that brain synapses actually change shape when first exposed to cocaine, and these changes may be a way the brain tries to minimize the effects of the drug in its first exposure. When this pathway was knocked out, the mice became less likely to administer cocaine, which suggests that this pathway may help explain why some people become addicted to cocaine and others do not.
Image courtesy of Health News.