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Circle of Anthonis Mor, Portrait of a Man in Armor (detail)
Recent published research in the Journal of Clinical Investigation demonstrates how changes in dopamine signaling and dopamine transporter function are linked to neurological and psychiatric diseases, including early-onset Parkinsonism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
"The present findings should provide a critical basis for further exploration of how dopamine dysfunction and altered dopamine transporter function contribute to brain disorders" said Michelle Sahai, a postdoctoral associate at the Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, adding "it also contributes to research efforts developing new ways to help the millions of people suffering."
Sahai is also studying the effects of cocaine, a widely abused substance with psychostimulant effects that targets the dopamine transporter. She and her colleagues expect to release these specific findings within the next year.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in our cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning. When activated from outside stimuli, nerve cells in the brain release dopamine, causing a chain reaction that releases even more of this chemical messenger.
To ensure that this doesn’t result in an infinite loop of dopamine production, a protein called the dopamine transporter reabsorbs the dopamine back into the cell to terminate the process. As dopamine binds to its transporter, it is returned to the nerve cells for future use.
However, cocaine and other drugs like amphetamine, completely hijack this well-balanced system.
"When cocaine enters the bloodstream, it does not allow dopamine to bind to its transporter, which results in a rapid increase in dopamine levels," Sahai explained.
The competitive binding and subsequent excess dopamine is what causes euphoria, increased energy, and alertness. It also contributes to drug abuse and addiction.
To further understand the effects of drug abuse, Sahai and other researchers in the Harel Weinstein Lab at Cornell are delving into drug interactions on a molecular level.
Using supercomputer resources, she is able to observe the binding of dopamine and various drugs to a 3D model of the dopamine transporter on a molecular level. According to Sahai, the work requires very long simulations in terms of microseconds and seconds to understand how drugs interact with the transporters.
What is Addiction? [Gabor Maté]
Whatever you do, don’t try and escape from your pain, but be with it,
because the attempt to escape from pain is what creates more pain.