Unexpected new mechanism in drug addiction discovered


Every year, 12 million people worldwide die from drugs. The discovery by the ULB Neuroscience Institute (UNI) gives them hope.

You are addicted if you chronically and compulsively seek and use drugs while their harmful effects are known to you. Drugs artificially increase the concentration of the neurotransmitter dopamine in what is known as the ventral striatum, the main area of the reward system in the brain. That system then gets disrupted. The brain starts to consider dopamine, that substance that gives feelings of pleasure, as important for survival, leading to dependence.

Both genetic and environmental factors can contribute to vulnerability to cocaine addiction. The Maged1 gene was not expected to play an essential role and certainly not outside the reward system, specifically in the paraventricular thalamus. UNI scientists have now uncovered mechanisms linked to specific epigenetic changes. This means that the activity of the gene changes, but the genetic code remains the same. Thus, inhibition of USP7, a newly identified partner gene of Maged1, would abolish addictive behaviour