Scientists see progress on a methamphetamine vaccine

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Research Report

By Lynne Friedmann

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Over the past two decades, methamphetamine has become one of the most common drugs of abuse estimated to affect 25 million people worldwide. In the United States alone there are an estimated 400,000 users, and in some states meth accounts for more primary drug abuse treatment admissions than any other drug. Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) report successful tests of an prototype methamphetamine vaccine on rats. A vaccine against any addictive substance needs to evoke antibody responses against drug molecules, just as traditional vaccines evoke antibody responses against viruses or bacteria. The anti-drug antibodies perform their job by grabbing hold of drug molecules and keeping them from entering the brain — preventing the drug high and removing the user’s incentive for taking the drug.

Meth poses a problem for vaccine development in that the methamphetamine molecule is structurally simple, making it relatively unnoticeable to the immune system. TSRI researchers are getting around this by linking a chemical similar to the methamphetamine molecule to a larger carrier molecule in order to produce the desired antibody response. Vaccinated animals that received the experimental vaccine were largely protected from typical signs of meth intoxication.

— The findings are scheduled for publication in the journal Biological Psychiatry. News release at http://bit.ly/SK8NjW

How intellect and behavior emerge during childhood

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have shown that a single protein plays an oversized role in intellectual and behavioral development. Furthermore, mutations in the gene that encodes this protein severely disrupt the organization of developing brain circuits during early childhood leading to intellectual disabilities.

The study focused on a critical synaptic protein known as SynGAP1. Using animal models that were missing just one copy of SynGAP1, researchers found that certain synapses develop prematurely in the period shortly after birth. This dramatically enhances what is known as “excitability” — how often brain cells fire — in the developing hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for memory. The balance between excitability and inhibition is especially critical during early developmental periods, when neural connections that ultimately give rise to normal cognitive and behavioral functions are forming.

Until this study, it was unclear precisely how pathogenic genetic mutations and synapse function were related to the failure to develop normal intellect.

— News release at http://bit.ly/TxTFon

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

   
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