Researchers have demonstrated that a naturally occurring brain protein known as Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) can be manipulated to produce increased activity in the brain similar to when opiates are ingested, the Deseret News reported May 28.
Neurobiologist Hector Vargas-Perez and colleagues at the University of Toronto and Brigham Young University (BYU) found that an increased presence of BDNF is associated not only with greater brain activity, such as when an epileptic fit occurs, but also with chronic exposure to drugs of abuse. The increase in BDNF – known to be involved in the release of dopamine in the brain — occurs within a specific area of the brain known as the ventral tegmental area (VTA).
The researchers found that repeatedly increasing BDNF levels in the brains of non drug-dependent lab rats changed their behavior to resemble that of drug-dependent rats.
“If we can understand how the brain's circuitry changes in association with drug abuse we can find ways to medically counteract the effects of dependency” in humans, said researcher Scott Steffensen of BYU. Lead author Hector Vargas-Perez of the University of Toronto said that the study “reveals the mechanism behind drug addiction.”
The results of this study were published May 28, 2009 in the online edition of the journal Science.