One Molecule Could Make Adolescents More Susceptible To Nicotine, Cocaine

By Paul Gaita 03/04/16

A new study may have discovered the reason why adolescents are more vulnerable to addictive drugs than adults. 

One Molecule Could Make Adolescents More Susceptible To Nicotine, Cocaine
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The molecule eIF2 (Eukaryotic Initiation Factor 2) may be at the root of why some adolescents are more prone to certain drugs than adults. Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas have found that the eIF2 molecule has a direct impact on one's sensitivity to both cocaine and nicotine.

Two experiments were conducted to determine how the drugs affected eIF2 by using both adult and adolescent mice. In the first experiment, the two test groups were injected with either a saline solution or a low dose of cocaine. In the second test, the two groups were injected with different doses of nicotine.

Their findings, published on March 1 in the journal eLife, discovered that in the cocaine tests, the drug reduced the activity of eIF2 in the adolescent test subjects, but not the adults. This, in turn, increased the response from dopamine-storing neurons in the brain.

“This greater communication between dopamine-rich neurons gives a greater sense of pleasure from taking the drug, and encourages behaviors related to addiction,” said study lead author Wei Huang. To generate a similar response in the adult mice, the researchers had to increase the drug dosage, leading them to note that adolescents had a lower threshold for cocaine.

The test involving nicotine yielded similar results among its test subjects. The results of both tests gave researchers a means of adapting the molecules to make the mice less susceptible to the effects of the drugs. Using a combination of genetics and pharmacology, the researchers were able to alter how eIF2 produced proteins and processed the two drugs. Increased activity of eIF2 in the adolescent mice made them more resistant to cocaine and nicotine, while adults became more susceptible after the molecule was altered.

According to the study authors, their findings may support the idea that alteration of the molecule in human subjects may yield similar results. “It’s truly remarkable that by manipulating the processes surrounding eIF2 in this way, we can rejuvenate brain activity,” said the study’s senior author, Mauro Costa-Mattioli. “This could hold significant promise for developing new treatments for drug addiction and related disorders.”

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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.