The same immune system that fights infection and the flu could offer a way to fight opioid addiction, a new study with rodents shows.
Researchers say specific immune system peptides—amino acid compounds that signal cells how to function—may affect brain activity and, by extension, drug cravings.
“We found we could target these immune peptides and change the cravings that male mice and rats had for food and sugar,” says Erin Calipari at Vanderbilt University and corresponding author of the paper, which appears in the Journal of Neuroscience.
“Now we’re looking at what we need to do before we can take this into human clinical trials. This is exciting because we see how peripheral systems such as the immune system could be influencing cravings.”
Calipari and colleagues aim to see how these systems work and find how to best translate the findings to help human patients.
There’s no single cure for the complicated disease of addiction which, at its core, is a hijacking of the dopamine system that creates a cycle of substance abuse, Calipari warns.
Genetic or external factors heavily influence individual addicts—and Calipari’s lab focuses on neurological interventions that could help cut cravings while patients work on other contributing factors.
“One example is that we’ve found women are particularly vulnerable to addiction,” she says.
“Ultimately, we want to be able to go to various populations and say, ‘These things are predictive of your vulnerability to addiction.’
Then, we want to target systems that could improve their treatment outcomes,” Calipari says.
“We’re not going to find one treatment that fixes everything, but we can, eventually, target different aspects of addiction for individual patients.”
Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai collaborated on the paper.