New research from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) suggests that the reason methamphetamine users find it so hard to quit — 88 percent of them relapse, even after rehab — is that meth takes advantage of the brain’s natural learning process. The TSRI study in rodent models shows that ceasing meth use prompts new neurons to form in a brain region tied to learning and memory, suggesting that the brain is strengthening memories tied to drug-seeking behavior.
“New neuronal growth is normally thought of as a good thing, but we captured these new neurons assisting with ‘bad’ behaviors,” said Chitra Mandyam, who led the research as an associate professor at TSRI before starting a new position at the Veterans Medical Research Foundation and the University of California, San Diego.
The scientists discovered that they could block relapse by giving animals a synthetic small molecule to stop new neurons from forming. This molecule, called Isoxazole-9 (Isx-9), also appeared to reverse abnormal neuronal growth that developed during meth use.