A new study has some out that centers around a new therapy for drug addicts, and this new therapy can help prevent relapses by erasing the drug-associated memories. The study comes out of the Florida campus of the Scripps Research Institute, which is known as TSRI. The results of this new study might just be able to provide a new way for addicts to get clean without worrying about the possibilities of relapse down the road, which is often times why people don’t get clean in the first place is due to the fears of relapsing anyways.
The issue with a lot of recovering addicts is that they relapse because of their addiction-memories, which are what temps them to use again, and this can occur months or years after stopping the drugs. The researchers wanted to find a target, meaning the memories, and then find a way to either disrupt or erase those memories in order to allow the recovering addict to continue a drug-free lifestyle. The associate professor at The Scripps Research Institute is Courtney Miller. Miller said that the hope is that when you combine this new therapy with the traditional rehabilitation and abstinence programs, relapse can either be reduced or eliminated for the meth users. This single treatment would essentially take away the triggers that the person has associated with the drug of choice, which then ends up reducing the odds of a relapse.
The new study was published in Molecular Psychiatry, and it went into detail about how the single injection of a drug called blebbistatin works in preventing relapse in animal models of methamphetamine addicts. The study is a continuation of a 2013 study by Miller where her research team made a discovery that showed drug-associated memories can be erased selectively by targeting actin. Actin is the protein that provides a structural scaffold that supports the memories in the brain. Therapeutic potential of this seemed very limited however, since actin is very important in the body, and if you even just once take a pill that inhibits actin could be fatal. You can think of it like actin being a critical beam in your house, and if you cut that beam out, the house will just fall down. In this new study, Miller and her team figured out a safe route that could selectively target actin through nonmuscle myosin II, which is a molecular motor that supports memory function. The researchers used a compound called blebbistatin to act on the protein in order to make this targeted inhibition possible.
The results of this research showed that if you inject blebbistatin a single time, it will successfully disrupt the long-term storage of drug-related memories, and then blocked them out of relapse for at least 30 days in the animal models of methamphetamine addiction. Myosin II is a great therapeutic target because the single injection can make the methamphetamine memories go away, and it also makes the dendritic spines go away, which is one of the key structures in the brain that stores memory. Ashley M. Blouin, Sherri B. Briggs, and Erica Young were part of the research team led by Miller that made this important discovery. Usually the drugs that target actin have to be delivered into the brain directly, but blebbistatin can reach the brain when injected into the peripheral parts of the body. The most important part about this was that the animal models used remained healthy after the injection, which is very important to test the efficacy of such a maneuver.
The best part about this new research is that it was only specific to the drug-associated memories, so it does not affect or wipe out other memories, and the animals used were able to form new memories as well. The researchers believe that developing small molecule inhibitors of nonmuscle myosin II is a very good therapeutic treatment for preventing relapse, and that is what this entire team is about since their expertise is in the development of drugs. When you look at various drug addictions, one of the biggest things that causes people to relapse is memories, both from the experience of using, and also memories associated with guilt or shame of how they behaved while they were on drugs. Shame is a huge trigger for drug relapse, because the addict feels so horrible for things they did while they were high or the things they did in order to get high. This drug could really help people because it could erase those memories associated with when they were using the drug, such as removing feelings of guilt when they remember how they screwed over a family member in order to get high.
While this study in particular was looking at methamphetamine addiction, the theory and the new treatment could work for other addictions as well, such as opiate addiction. Opiate addiction has about a 9 in 10 relapse rate, which means that about only 1 person out of every 10 will get clean from the drug. By using this new therapy, the researchers hope that it could help people who are in various types of addictions overcome their problem, and also prevent the relapses that happen many years after being clean.