Pubdate: Thu, 06 Dec 2007
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2007 Sun-Sentinel Company


What do suffering a traumatic brain injury and using  club drugs have
in common? University of Florida  researchers say both may trigger a
similar chemical  chain reaction in the brain, leading to cell death,
memory loss and potentially irreversible brain damage.

A series of studies at UF over the past five years has  shown using
the popular club drug Ecstasy, also called  MDMA, and other forms of
methamphetamine lead to the  same type of brain changes, cell loss and
protein  fluctuations in the brain that occur after a person  endures
a sharp blow to the head, according to findings  a UF researcher
presented at a Society for Neuroscience  conference in San Diego this

"Using methamphetamine is like inflicting a traumatic  brain injury on
yourself," said Firas Kobeissy, Ph.D.,  a postdoctoral associate in
the College of Medicine  department of psychiatry. "We found that a
lot of brain  cells are being injured by these drugs. That's alarming
to society now. People don't seem to take club drugs as  seriously as
drugs such as heroin or cocaine."

Working with UF researchers Mark Gold, M.D., chief of  the division of
addiction medicine at UF's McKnight  Brain Institute and one of the
country's leading  experts on addiction medicine, and Kevin Wang,
Ph.D,  director of the UF Center for Neuroproteomics and  Biomarkers
Research, Kobeissy compared what happened in  the brains of rats given
large doses of methamphetamine  with what happened to those that had
suffered a  traumatic brain injury.

The group's research has already shown how traumatic  brain injury
affects brain cells in rats. They found  similar damage in the rats
exposed to methamphetamine.  In the brain, club drugs set off a chain
of events that  injures brain cells. The drugs seem to damage certain
proteins in the brain, which causes protein levels to  fluctuate. When
proteins are damaged, brain cells could  die. In addition, as some
proteins change under the  influence of methamphetamine, they also
begin to cause  inflammation in the brain, which can be deadly,
Kobeissy said.

Kobeissy and other researchers in Gold's lab are using  novel protein
analysis methods to understand how drug  abuse alters the brain.
Looking specifically at  proteins in the rat cortex, UF researchers
discovered  that about 12 percent of the proteins in this region of
the brain showed the same kinds of changes after either
methamphetamine use or traumatic brain injury. There  are about 30,000
proteins in the brain so such a  significant parallel indicates that a
similar mechanism  is at work after both traumatic brain injury and
methamphetamine abuse, Kobeissy said.

"Sometimes people go to the clubs and take three  tablets of Ecstasy
or speed," Kobeissy said. "That may  be a toxic dose for them. Toxic
effects can be seen for  methamphetamine, Ecstasy and traumatic injury
in  different areas of the brain."

About 1.3 million people over the age of 12 reported  using
methamphetamine in the previous month, according  to the 2006 National
Survey on Drug Use and Health. In  2004, more than 12 million
Americans reported having  tried the drug, the survey's findings show.

People often think the effects of drugs of abuse wear  off in the body
the same way common medications do, but  that may not be the case,
Gold said.

"These data and the previous four years of data suggest  some drugs,
especially methamphetamine, cause changes  that are not readily
reversible," Gold said. "Future  research is necessary for us to
determine when or if  methamphetamine-related brain changes reverse

Gold and Dennis Steindler, Ph.D., director of UF's  McKnight Brain
Institute and an expert on stem cells,  are planning studies to find
out if stem cells can be  applied to repair drug-related brain damage.

UF researchers are also trying to uncover all the  various ways drugs
damage and kill brain cells. During  their protein analysis,
researchers discovered that  oxidation was damaging some proteins,
throwing the  molecules chemically off balance.

"When proteins are oxidized they are not functional,"  Kobeissy said.
"When proteins are not working, the cell  cannot function."

Neurologist Jean Lud Cadet, M.D., chief of the  molecular
neuropsychiatry branch of the National  Institute on Drug Abuse, said
analyzing proteins is  important to understanding how drugs such as
methamphetamine affect the brain.
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