ScienceDaily (Apr. 10, 2008) — Repeatedly stimulating the mouse brain with methamphetamine depresses important areas of the brain, and those changes can only be undone by re-introducing the drug, according to research at the University of Washington and other institutions. The study, which appears in the April 10 issue of the journal Neuron, provides one of the most in-depth views of the mechanisms of methamphetamine addiction, and suggests that withdrawal from the drug may not undo the changes the stimulant can cause in the brain.
The researchers set out to determine what sort of changes happen in the brain because of repeated use of the stimulant methamphetamine, and to better understand addiction-related behaviors like drug craving and relapse. Methamphetamine, also known as simply meth, is one of the most popular illegal drugs in the United States, and abuse of the drug can cause severe addiction.
Scientists have believed that abuse of drugs like meth can cause changes to the neurons in the brain and the synapses and terminals that control transmission of information in the brain. In this project, researchers focused on the mouse brain, and how it was affected by methamphetamine over 10 days, which is the mouse equivalent of chronic use in humans.
They found that the long administration and withdrawal of the drug depressed the neural terminals controlling the flow of signals between two areas of the brain, the cortex and striatum. Even a long period of withdrawal -- the equivalent of years in humans -- did not return the terminals to normal activity level. Re-introducing the drug, however, reversed the changes in the brain.