Skip to main content

Scientists genetically engineer a mouse that’s immune to cocaine addiction

cocaine mouse addiction mouseinsnow feat
Victor Tyakht/123RF
Scientists at the University of British Columbia have genetically engineered a mouse incapable of becoming addicted to cocaine.

“The purpose of [our] study was to understand a little bit more about the addicted brain — and specifically to understand a little more about what’s going on at the cellular and molecular level,” Dr. Shernaz Bamji, a professor in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, who worked on the project, told Digital Trends. “Researchers are pretty confident now that addiction is a form of learning that goes a bit haywire in a particular circuit in the brain. To learn you have to strengthen synaptic connections, and this involves adding more ‘glue’ — a protein called cadherin, which holds brain cells together — to the synapse.”

The researchers figured that adding more cadherin to synapses found within the brain circuit involved in addiction would lead to higher levels of addiction, since more glue should mean stronger synapses and more learned behavior, including pathological addiction.

Instead, they found the opposite.

“We have a cage with three very distinct chambers in it,” Bamji continued. “We take our [mouse] and give it cocaine and let it associate the cocaine ‘high’ with one of the three chambers. We train it this way for a number of days until it’s learned that it always feels the high in that location. When you allow the mice to freely move between the chambers, normal mice will always gravitate towards the chamber where it received the drug, which may indicate it’s looking for that high. [But] the mice which had too much glue or cadherin at synapses didn’t behave this way. They didn’t keep going to the room where they received the cocaine — they seemed to be just as happy exploring all around the cage.”

The study suggests a number of interesting things, including adding to the evidence that repetitive drug use has a lot to do with genetics and biochemistry, rather than just being something which affects “weak-willed” individuals.

It also reveals the possibility of developing possible treatments for addiction although, as lead author Dr. Andrea Globa told Digital Trends, it’s not entirely straightforward.

“Anything we can find out about how these circuits work is exciting and allows us to think about the possibility of being able to target parts of the brain with a particular drug,” Globa said. “One important thing to keep in mind is that cadherin is important in a lot of different types of learning, not just pathological addiction. So to simply target cadherin with a drug might not be the best approach because reducing someone’s ability to remember the rewarding effects of using a drug could also have negative effects on their ability to remember important things in their day-to-day life.”

Still, the more that can be learned about the proteins involved in different reward pathways, the better scientists’ ability to develop solutions to problems like addiction will be.

The work additionally opens up the possibility of one day being able to determine whether a person is predisposed to addiction by looking at their genes.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
The best portable power stations
EcoFlow DELTA 2 on table at campsite for quick charging.

Affordable and efficient portable power is a necessity these days, keeping our electronic devices operational while on the go. But there are literally dozens of options to choose from, making it abundantly difficult to decide which mobile charging solution is best for you. We've sorted through countless portable power options and came up with six of the best portable power stations to keep your smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other gadgets functioning while living off the grid.
The best overall: Jackery Explorer 1000

Jackery has been a mainstay in the portable power market for several years, and today, the company continues to set the standard. With three AC outlets, two USB-A, and two USB-C plugs, you'll have plenty of options for keeping your gadgets charged.

Read more
CES 2023: HD Hyundai’s Avikus is an A.I. for autonomous boat and marine navigation
Demonstration of NeuBoat level 2 autonomous navigation system at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show

This content was produced in partnership with HD Hyundai.
Autonomous vehicle navigation technology is certainly nothing new and has been in the works for the better part of a decade at this point. But one of the most common forms we see and hear about is the type used to control steering in road-based vehicles. That's not the only place where technology can make a huge difference. Autonomous driving systems can offer incredible benefits to boats and marine vehicles, too, which is precisely why HD Hyundai has unveiled its Avikus AI technology -- for marine and watercraft vehicles.

More recently, HD Hyundai participated in the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, to demo its NeuBoat level 2 autonomous navigation system for recreational boats. The name mashes together the words "neuron" and "boat" and is quite fitting since the Avikus' A.I. navigation tech is a core component of the solution, it will handle self-recognition, real-time decisions, and controls when on the water. Of course, there are a lot of things happening behind the scenes with HD Hyundai's autonomous navigation solution, which we'll dive into below -- HD Hyundai will also be introducing more about the tech at CES 2023.

Read more
This AI cloned my voice using just three minutes of audio
acapela group voice cloning ad

There's a scene in Mission Impossible 3 that you might recall. In it, our hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) tackles the movie's villain, holds him at gunpoint, and forces him to read a bizarre series of sentences aloud.

"The pleasure of Busby's company is what I most enjoy," he reluctantly reads. "He put a tack on Miss Yancy's chair, and she called him a horrible boy. At the end of the month, he was flinging two kittens across the width of the room ..."

Read more