LONDON and MILAN, July 8, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --
Federation of European Neuroscience Societies
9th FENS Forum of Neuroscience
5-9 July 2014 - Milan, Italy
In substance addiction, drug-associated memories are known to powerfully compel craving and drug seeking behaviour. Research by Professor Barry Everitt at the University of Cambridge, UK, indicates that disrupting the brain's memory pathways might point towards future addiction therapy approaches.
Today (8 July), Professor Everitt spoke as one of three awardees of the 2014 Fondation Ipsen Neuronal Plasticity Prize for outstanding contributions in the field of neuronal plasticity. At FENS, Europe's largest neuroscience conference, he described research in rodents indicating that targeting 'memory plasticity' and thereby diminishing the impact of maladaptive drug memories might offer a key approach to future addiction treatment in humans.
Research teams led by Professor Everitt have already established that the path to addiction entails several transitions, shifting behavioural control from one brain area to another - from voluntary, goal-directed action to involuntary, compulsive drug seeking habit. The recreational first stage involves reward stimulation controlled by the ventral striatum, the brain's key reward-processing area. The addiction stage involves the establishment of automatic drug seeking habits that are powerfully elicited by drug-associated conditioned stimuli, and are controlled by the dorsal striatum.
Drug craving and seeking behaviour, as well as relapse, are driven largely by recollection of powerful drug-associated memories, explained Professor Everitt. As the brain retrieves these memories - by recall, or exposure to drug-related stimuli - memory reconsolidation takes place. This neurochemical process strengthens and reinforces memories, which can persistently impact behaviour. "We specifically examined how we could target these maladaptive drug-related memories, and prevent them from triggering drug-taking and relapse," he said.
Memory consolidation was previously assumed to be permanent, explained Professor Everitt. But like many aspects of the brain, memory exhibits 'plasticity,' in its capacity to constantly rewire neural pathways, responding to changing stimuli and experiences by reorganising brain connections. His research group uncovered that when drug memories are reactivated by retrieval, they enter a pliable and unstable state.
Taking advantage of this unstable state, Dr Everitt's Cambridge team found that in rats, memory reconsolidation could be prevented in one of two ways: by blocking brain chemicals, or by inactivating genes. In one study, the team diminished drug-seeking behaviours by obstructing a brain chemical receptor crucial to learning and memory, thus erasing memories. In another study, his team found they could weaken drug memories by altering a particular gene in the amygdala, a brain area processing emotional memory. In both studies, memory disruption only worked if the pathway was blocked at retrieval, during memory reconsolidation - at the moment before restabilisation of the memory in the brain. Yet both methods seemed to weaken or erase maladaptive memories, and so reduced drug-seeking behaviour and relapse.
These findings strongly suggest that the plasticity of memory reconsolidation is key to diminishing the impact of drug-associated recollections. "Of course, inactivating genes in the brain is not feasible in humans," said Professor Everitt. "So we're directing our research to better identify the underlying brain mechanisms of memory reconsolidation." Professor Everitt believes that further research across these areas - including uncovering what might make some individuals more vulnerable - may enable development of medications tailored to chemically interrupt those memory processes in humans.
Treatments disrupting drug memories would need to be administered in a monitored clinical settings, while addicts reactivate their strongest drug memories, noted Professor Everitt. But such therapies might not only help diminish drug-taking behaviours and relapse, they might also enhance abstinence-promoting treatment.
Additionally, memory reconsolidation treatment could also be relevant for other disorders involving maladaptive, unwanted memories, noted Professor Everitt. "Persistent fear-related memories which greatly affect behaviour - such as those in PTSD and other anxiety-related disorders - also hold potential for this type of treatment."
Abstract Reference R10291: Neural plasticity, maladaptive learning and memory in addiction: implications for relapse prevention and abstinence
Symposia SL06: Special Lecture - Fondation IPSEN/Neuronal Plasticity Prize
NOTES TO EDITORS
The 9th FENS Forum of Neuroscience, the largest basic neuroscience meeting in Europe, organised by FENS and hosted by the The Società Italiana di Neuroscienze (SINS) (Italian Society for Neuroscience) will attract an estimated 5,500 international delegates. The Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), founded in 1998, aims to advance research and education in neuroscience, representing neuroscience research in the European Commission and other granting bodies. FENS represents 42 national and mono-disciplinary neuroscience societies with close to 23,000 member scientists from 32 European countries. http://fens2014.neurosciences.asso.fr/
Further Reading (Everitt)
Neural and psychological mechanisms underlying compulsive drug seeking habits and drug memories - indications for novel treatments of addiction. BJ Everitt. European Journal of Neuroscience. June 2014: 1-20.
Addiction: failure of control over maladaptive incentive habits. D Belin, A Belin-Rauscent, JE Murray, BJ Everitt. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. August 2013; 23(4): 564-72.
The persistence of maladaptive memory: addiction, drug memories and anti-relapse treatments. AL Milton, BJ Everitt. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2012; 36(4): 1119-39.
Neural systems of reinforcement for drug addiction: from actions to habits to compulsion. BJ Everitt, TW Robbins. Nature Neuroscience. 2005; 8: 1481-1489.
SOURCE FENS FORUM OF NEUROSCIENCE