Scientists Discover Way To Activate Brain Cells To Inhibit Drug Addiction

Understanding role of specific brain cells in the urge for opioids offers avenue for interventions aimed at curbing addiction

<p>Chief of Operations of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), stands in front of The Faces of Fentanyl wall, which displays photos of Americans who died of a fentanyl overdose, at the DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, on July 13, 2022. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and as little as two milligrams can cause an overdose. AGNES BUN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES.</p>

JERUSALEM — In a study that could have significant implications for addressing the opioid crisis, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that manipulating specific types of brain cells inhibits the urge for the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

“More than two-thirds of American drug-related deaths last year involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is mixed with cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin or other illegal drugs. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and as little as two milligrams can cause an overdose,” said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, published in Current Biology, focused on claustral neurons and their direct influence on opioid intake. The claustrum is a small subcortical nucleus that connects with large regions of the cortex, as well as with many subcortical and midbrain structures. 

Manipulating these neurons allowed the researchers to modulate the amount of fentanyl the mice ingested. Activating the neurons inhibited drug consumption while suppressing the same neurons escalated drug intake.

“Our findings shed light on the intricate relationship between the brain and fentanyl consumption,” said lead investigator Prof.ami Citri from Hebrew University’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences.

Addiction Illustration. The researchers discovered that claustral neurons exhibited distinctive activity patterns when fentanyl was consumed by lab mice. LIGHTSPRING VIA SHUTTERSTOCK.COM.

“Understanding the role of claustral neurons in regulating the urge to consume opioids offers a new avenue for interventions aimed at curbing addiction,” said the Professor.

The researchers believe that future study of the claustrum’s function in different stages of the addiction process could help those struggling with active addiction and lead to the development of drug therapies.

Other researchers at Hebrew University’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences who contributed to the study include Anna Terem, and Yonatan Fatal. Fatal initiated the project as a high-school student.

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Edited by Judy J. Rotich and Newsdesk Manager