Addiction A-Z

Astrocytes

Astrocytes are star-shaped cells located in the brain and spinal cord. Astrocytes could play a significant role in morphine’s ability to relieve pain and cause addiction. The findings of this study appear in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research (Piotr Suder and Colleagues). Morphine has been used for years to treat pain. It is an effective medication, but also highly addictive. According to Suder and colleagues, nearly everyone in the scientific world viewed astrocytes – which are the most abundant cells in the brain – as supporting players in the activity of the brain. They were believed to serve simply as cells to prop up neurons, the nerve cells that transmit signals and keep them in proper position. Research over the past few years, however, is suggesting that these cells actually do much more in the process. In this research, scientists added morphine to a group of astrocytes in cell culture for several days. Over the course of this time, the morphine-exposed cells showed increased levels of nine proteins that appear to play a role in maintaining the normal function of nerve cells. According to the article in the Journal of Proteome Research, “These proteins, after additional detailed study of their function, may serve as a potential marker of drug addiction, or may be the targets for potential therapy.”

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