Researchers have contributed significant new evidence to support the idea that high doses of cocaine kill brain cells by triggering overactive autophagy (normal physiological process in the body that deals with destruction of cells), while working with mice.
This is a process in which cells literally digest their own insides. Their results, moreover, bring with them a possible antidote, an experimental compound dubbed CGP3466B.
The study at Johns Hopkins University also found signs of autophagy in the brain cells of mice whose mothers received cocaine while pregnant.
Dr. Solomon Snyder said that this information gave an immediate insight into how to use a known compound to interfere with that process and prevent the damage.
After discovering in 1990 that brain cells use the gas nitric oxide to communicate, Snyder and his research team have spent decades studying its impact.
In 2013, the team found that nitric oxide is involved in cocaine-induced cell death through its interactions with GAPDH, an enzyme, but didn’t learn how precisely the cells were dying.
To find out, the research team examined nerve cells from mouse brains for clues. Snyder says cells, like whole animals, can die from extreme temperatures, toxins and physical trauma, but can also commit “suicide” in three ways that are chemically programmed and controlled by different proteins.
The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.