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Alzheimer’s drug may also treat addiction

Scientists have recently discovered a protein that not only plays a key role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but may also have the ability to decrease the “high” from addictive drugs like methamphetamine. The protein is known as the organic cation transporter 3, better known as oct 3. The discovery of this protein actually leads to a minefield of answers that scientists have long been searching for. For decades, scientists and doctors have been working hard to understand the impairments in the brain that leads to slow movements, unstable postures, tremors and stiffness. As you may notice, these conditions are also known symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. However, a term known as “parkinsonism” refers to these same symptoms that are caused by different conditions.

The root of an illness

Unfortunately, Parkinson’s is one of the diseases today that remain incurable, largely because the roots that cause the disease is still mostly a mystery. So far, two factors have been considered to play a role in the development of this disease, and these are genes and environment. Another likely factor is a combination of the two—how a specific environment causes genes to express themselves and how the two factors interact with each other. So far, doctors know that Parkinson’s begins when a small group of brain cells called dopamine neurons die. Dopamine neurons are responsible for producing a chemical that the brain needs in order to allow us to move freely. A person with Parkinson’s only starts showing symptoms when most of these cells are already dead. The challenge for doctors then is to find out why these cells die in the first place. For years, scientists have been focusing their attention on the cells responsible for transporting electrical signals—the neurons. However, recent findings have encouraged these scientists to turn to the often overlooked astrocytes, which were largely known as the support cells in the brain but have been found to play a role in other diseases like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.

The relation to drugs

The same scientists are also finding out that the oct 3 in these astrocytes may play a role in how the brain responds to methamphetamines. You have probably heard of dopamine, which is the chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure that one gets from gratifying activities like drinking alcohol, having sex or eating a big slice of pizza. This chemical is also responsible for the euphoria that addicts experience when getting a hit of drugs. The oct3 in astrocytes has been found to remove or clean up dopamine in the brain, which can lower euphoria and can in turn lower the chances of an addiction.

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