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Amino acids fight addiction

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Amino acids fight addiction

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April 3, 2009

Researchers in the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine have found that D-Serine, an amino acid being tested for the treatment of schizophrenia and other psychotic conditions, may also be useful in treating addiction.

John Wagner, a professor in the department of physiology and pharmacology, graduate student Lakshmi Kelamangalath and postdoctoral fellow Claire Seymour, found that D-Serine promoted learning during drug withdrawal. Wagner said overcoming an addiction requires not only a withdrawal from the substance, but new learning that "extinguishes" the need or desire for it.

"Preventing relapse is a critical component of treating addiction," said Wagner, "especially given that so many factors-stress, surroundings, familiar sights, smells, personal habits-can trigger cravings."

Wagner's lab looked specifically at cocaine because currently there is no FDA approved treatment regime. Assuming that the results of these initial studies, obtained from laboratory rats, are relevant to the human condition, their findings suggest that D-Serine may be beneficial in treating addiction. The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health and UGA's interdisciplinary toxicology program, was published in the early online November edition of the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

Wagner stresses that D-Serine is neither an anti-craving substance nor is it an addictive drug, but an amino acid that acts on specific receptors in the brain. In the reported studies, it helped to counter a conditioned response (cocaine-seeking), once the drug was withdrawn.

While Wagner's lab is the first to look at its potential for treating addiction, D-Serine is already being tested in humans for treating certain phobias and in schizophrenia patients.Wagner's interest in looking at its potential in overcoming addiction grew from earlier work in which he looked at the actions of cocaine on the brain and nervous system.

"For most people, addiction means dealing with uncontrolled drug-seeking behavior, which, when acute, can result in devastating consequences - job loss, financial ruin, damaged personal relationships and other destructive behaviors," said Wagner.

In future studies, Wagner hopes to establish a time course for the effectiveness of D-Serine. He also would like to investigate whether D-Serine is effective in treating other addictions.