Inhibiting the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 (ALDH-2) ― a natural enzyme in the body ― may have therapeutic potential against cocaine addiction, according to an article in this week's Nature Medicine.
Despite many studies of the neurobiology of drug addiction, there is no effective treatment for cocaine addiction. ALDH-2 is known to reduce the level of acetaldehyde, a molecule that accumulates after alcohol abuse to trigger the symptoms of a hangover. Lina Yao and her colleagues show that an inhibitor of ALDH-2 prevents rats from self-administering cocaine. The inhibitor acts by indirectly decreasing the production and release of dopamine, a molecule critical for the rewarding effects of cocaine and other drugs.
Crucially, the inhibitor not only prevented cocaine self-administration, but also relapse ― the return to the addictive state after a period of improvement. As relapse is often a health problem as serious as the original addiction, the therapeutic potential of ALDH-2 inhibitors warrants serious consideration.