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Aurora magazine

Causes and consequences of genetic abnormalities

Christopher W. Cowan's team unveiled the genetic mechanisms that cause substance dependence. The reasons are written in the DNA: some enzymes alter the expression and ignite the responsible genes of the relapses. The discovery will help develop new therapies to tackle abstinence crises.

The purpose of the study was to find out how the drugs gratify the brain, so to push them to look for them even after very long withdrawal periods. The researchers focused on the enzyme dehydrogenase deacetylase 5 (HDAC5), very present in the neurons of the nucleus accumbens. These neurons control the gratification circuit that the drugs turn on and off.

The researchers examined the action of the HDAC5 enzyme on some cavities. It has emerged that the enzyme helps to prevent relapses during abstinence crises. It in fact inhibits the expression of several genes of neurons of the nucleus accumbens, including the NPAS4 gene. The gene in question is responsible for the association between the taking of particular substances and particular environmental conditions. The enzyme, however, makes it more difficult for certain situations to trigger the desire of the substance.

The next goal is to understand which other genes are involved in addiction processes. This way you will be able to understand what happens to the brain when it first comes into contact with substance waxes. It will be a first step to develop treatments that reduce the risk of developing addictions.