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Synthetic Molecule Shows Promise for Treating Cocaine Addiction

May 28, 2020

A synthetic molecule developed by researchers at Duke University has shown the ability to selectively dampen physiological rewards of cocaine in mice, according to research published in the journal Cell on Thursday.

In mice treated with cocaine or methamphetamine, the molecule was found to calm drug-induced hyperactivity and interfere with the dopamine system’s ability to change metabolism in the brain’s reward center. Mice that were allowed to self-administer cocaine slowed their drug use in 20 minutes to an hour, and reduced the amount of drug consumed by 80% vs. a control group.

The development of the molecule, SBI-553, is part of an effort by researchers to identify compounds that selectively activate specific receptors. For decades, researchers have worked to identify molecules that would activate one specific receptor, neurotensin receptor 1 (NTSR1), as a way to disrupt the actions of stimulants and treat cocaine and methamphetamine addictions.

In a study conducted by researchers at Duke and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, California, SBI-553 was found to reduce the amount of cocaine animals consumed and associated cravings, but without the side effects created by other interventions, such as decreased blood pressure and body temperature, and motor coordination problems.

The researchers working on the project have been awarded a $3.58 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop SBI-553 for clinical trials and evaluate its effects on behaviors associated with opioid addiction.

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