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Mechanism that reduces effect of cocaine on brain discovered

A type of brain cell known as microglia plays a key role in reducing the effects of cocaine in the brain, according to a major study by a team from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) in Montreal.

The discovery, published in the journal Neuron, establishes for the first time that microglia can diminish the adverse changes to neural circuitry brought on by the chronic use of cocaine and has significant implications for developing an effective treatment for addiction.

Microglia may not be as well known as neurons, the brain cells that relay messages, but they have many important functions. They constantly monitor their environment, and can act to maintain normal brain functioning. When they find something amiss, they can produce molecules that instruct neurons to make adaptive changes to their connections. One such example is the inflammatory molecule known as tumor necrosis factor (TNF).

Single microglia cell in the brain
Single microglia cell in the brain. DNA in the cell body is labeled in blue, and in red and green are different proteins expressed only by microglia which show the elaborate processes of these cells
Image Credit: MUHC