In a study presented at the 95th annual meeting of The Endocrine Society in San Francisco, a missing brain enzyme was found to increase concentrations of a protein related to opioid addiction in mice.
Opioids are pain-killing drugs that block signals of pain between nerves in the body. Addiction to these compounds occurs, in part, because drugs containing opioids alter the brain's biochemical balance. The long-term goal of this type of research is to attempt to identify the risk factors that differentiate people who get addicted from those who do not.
The study's authors, based at the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, eliminated an enzyme called prohormone convertase 2 (PC2) in mice that normally converts substances into active hormones in certain parts of the brain. Previous research by this team demonstrated that PC2 levels increase after long-term morphine use. Morphine normally binds to a protein on cells known as the mu opioid receptor (MOR). They found that MOR concentrations were higher in mice lacking PC2 compared to other mice.
"In this study, we found that PC2 knockout mice have higher levels of MOR in brain regions related to drug addiction," said Dr. Theodore Friedman, the study's lead author, in a press release. "We conclude that PC2 regulates endogenous opioids involved in the addiction response and in its absence, up-regulation of MOR expression occurs in key brain areas related to drug addiction."
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