Forgetting Cocaine

How can medical treatments control addiction to cocaine? In a Yale study, scientists Amber Dunbar and Jane Taylor found that a drug called Garcinol can block memories associated with cocaine and decrease drug-seeking behavior in rats. The researchers trained a group of rats to self-administer cocaine, pairing administration of the drug with a cue to later be remembered, and found that the animals could be made to “forget” these drug-associated memories if Garcinol was administered.  If Garcinol works similarly on humans, it could have a huge impact on cocaine addiction rehabilitation.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Melissa Monsey explained the motivation behind the study: “We’re interested in finding different ways to disrupt memories that are associated with drug use. By studying cocaine-associated memories, the lab hopes to sustain abstinence and potentially help prevent cravings in human addicts.”

Garcinol is derived from the fruit of the Kokum tree, and according to Monsey, was used primarily for culinary purposes in coastal India before it caught scientists’ attention. Scientists have previously studied Garcinol’s effects on fear memory. Basing their work on the previously published literature, Dunbar and Taylor found that Garcinol could specifically affect cocaine-related memories. Specificity is essential because a person undergoing rehabilitative treatment would not want to experience loss or impairment of other memories.

Dunbar and Taylor are currently continuing research with rodents to figure out the underlying molecular mechanisms of Garcinol. They want to elucidate its neuronal effects and molecular mechanism. In the future, their lab hopes to collaborate with the clinical psychiatry department to potentially move this drug into clinical trials.