Researchers of the University of Tartu Faculty of Medicine are starting a new research project the results of which could lead to developing new biomarkers for drug addiction and open a new path in the treatment of drug addiction.
According to the National Institute for Health Development, from 1999 to 2018, as many as 1.678 people died in Estonia as a result of a drug overdose. These deaths are overshadowed by the fact that there is currently no cure for addiction induced by psychostimulants such as cocaine and amphetamine.
“Several studies have evaluated the reversal of psychostimulant addiction using dopaminergic, serotoninergic, glutamatergic, and GABAergic strategies. Unfortunately, clinical data remain disappointing, and novel pharmacological strategies are needed,” said Professor in Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology of the University of Tartu Anti Kalda, who has studied the mechanisms of and potential cures for drug addiction for years.
Thus, medical researchers of the University of Tartu are launching a project aiming to study the epigenetic changes in the human leukocytes due to external factors, psychostimulants and cannabinoids and investigate the inhibitor effects of a new drug candidate – DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) – on psychostimulant-induced addiction. “DNA methyltransferases are enzymes that regulate gene activity. We want to understand whether their effect could result in a potential treatment outcome,” said Kalda.
Professor Kalda, who leads the research project, says that the research focuses on three main topics and also involves laboratory animals: “Especially due to ethical considerations, it is difficult to study drug addiction on human subjects, so we must use laboratory animals, mostly rodents.”
In the project, researchers will first study the aberrant DNA methylation and long-term epigenetic-mediated gene expression changes in human leukocytes following repeated exposure to psychostimulants. Secondly, they will look at how psychostimulant-treated leukocytes alter neuroplasticity of an addicted brain in laboratory animals, and thirdly assess whether DNMT-inhibitor treatment inhibits psychostimulant-induced changes in human leukocytes and how these changes affect brain neuroplasticity in laboratory animals.”
Kalda believes that if the project is successful, it can help to develop new biomarkers for drug addiction that could be used for evaluating the risk of drug addiction and the treatment efficacy. Kalda emphasises, however, that the most efficient way of curing drug addiction is to avoid the use of addictive substances.
The research project “The effect of DNA methyltransferase-inhibitor treatment on aberrant DNA methylation in human leukocytes: A novel pharmacological strategy for treatment of psychostimulant-induced drug addiction” is funded by the Estonian Research Council.