Gene Regulation May Control Addiction, Depression

By Paul Gaita 11/13/14

Researchers discovered that changing genes in the brain can potentially reduce both cravings and depression.

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Changing the way that a gene in the brain region operates may offer the key to reducing addictive cravings and depression.

That is the finding in a recent study conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The study focuses on changes wrought on human genes by transcription factors; proteins that bind to specific DNA sequences and influence the function of individual genes.

These transcription factors can be altered by exposure to chemicals or stress that will, in turn, produce a response that can make the genes more susceptible to stress or addiction. In the study, the research team introduced synthetic transcription factors called Zinc Finger Proteins (ZFPs) into a single gene, FosB, in the nucleus accumbens—a region of the brain closely associated with other centers that maintain the production of dopamine and the reduction of serotonin—of mice test subjects.

When FosB is encouraged to express, the individual experiences a greater sensitivity to drug interaction and less resilience to stressors. The FosB-ZFPs caused chemical modifications that produced the opposite effect: the mice appeared to be more resilient to stress and less susceptible to cocaine dependency.

The study authors indicate that their research is the first step in developing not only therapeutics to positively affect the diseases of depression and addiction, but also other genetic-based conditions. “The use of engineered transcription factors has broad implications outside of neuroscience, because gene regulation underlies many diseases, including most forms of cancer,” said the study’s lead author, Elizabeth A. Heller, PhD.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.