Researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine have found that D-Serine, an amino acid being tested for the treatment of schizophrenia and other psychotic conditions, also may 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.
Overcoming an addiction requires not only a withdrawal from the substance, but new learning that “extinguishes” the need or desire for it, according to Wagner.
“Preventing relapse is a critical component of treating addiction,” he said, “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 2009 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. It is an amino acid that acts on specific receptors in the brain.
In the reported studies, it helped to counter cocaine-seeking behaviors, once the drug was withdrawn.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.
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.