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GW, Maryland Use NIDA Funds to Find Addiction Genes

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Researchers at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the University of Maryland School of Medicine will use a $405,000 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to investigate genes that may increase susceptibility to drug abuse and addiction.

The project will continue studies of mouse genetics and addictive behavior that have found gene expression changes that lead to changes in the brain and are involved in addiction and abuse.

George Washington Professor Norman Lee and University of Maryland Associate Professor Gregory Elmer will serve as co-investigators on the two-year project, which will focus on morphine addiction in mouse models and which they hope will lead to new therapeutic target genes for treating addiction.

“We are asking the question, ‘What is it about the brain in certain individuals that’s changing and leading them to become more susceptible to abusing drugs, despite the adverse consequences?’” Lee said in a statement.

In earlier mouse studies, Lee and Elmer found that there was a "significant change" in the expression of genes involved in neurons that made the mice more likely to work harder to self-administer injections of morphine than other mice that did not exhibit the gene expression change.

The partners discovered that these changes in neurons were due in large part to an enzyme called Dicer that was being turned on and was leading to expression of microRNAs. These miRNAs dampen or turn off genes and caused the mice to continue to self-administer and abuse morphine, the researchers believe.

Now the researchers aim to determine which genes the miRNAs are dampening and which are involved in drug addiction.

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