• Press Release

Mount Sinai Researchers Identify Protein Involved in Cocaine Addiction

Signaling Pathway Can Be Studied to Develop New Drugs to Treat Cravings Without Abuse Potential

  • (January 16, 2018)

Mount Sinai researchers have identified a protein produced by the immune system—granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF)—that could be responsible for the development of cocaine addiction.

A study showed that G-CSF can alter a mouse’s desire for cocaine, but not for other rewards. This effect is modulated by a brain region that plays a central role in reward processing and addiction. If applicable to humans, these findings represent a potential therapeutic approach to decrease a cocaine addict’s motivation to seek the drug without introducing a potential new substance for abuse.

The results of the study will be published online in Nature Communications on January 16th at 11am EST.

Previous research has demonstrated a link between cocaine use and the immune system in humans and animals, with addicts showing altered immune responses to drugs and drug cues. In this study, the research team identified G-CSF—a cytokine produced by immune cells which was expressed at higher levels in both the blood and brain in mice that were treated with repeated doses of cocaine —. Injecting G-CSF into the nucleus accumbens, a brain region associated with reward, causes mice to take more cocaine, but does not change their motivation to consume a more natural reward, sugar water. Conversely, injecting an antibody that neutralizes G-CSF in the nucleus accumbens can reduce the mouse’s motivation to take cocaine.

Taken together, the results from this study suggest that manipulating G-CSF in the reward center of the brain changes the biochemical signals that push animals to take cocaine.

“The results of this study are exciting because outside of 12-step programs and psychotherapy, no medication-assisted therapy exists to treat cocaine addiction,” said the study’s senior author, Drew Kiraly, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Drugs that manipulate G-CSF already exist as FDA-approved medications. Once we clarify how G-CSF signaling can best be targeted to reduce addiction-like behaviors, there is a high possibility that treatments targeting G-CSF could be translated into clinical trials and treatments for patients.”

This study was supported by NIH grants DA044308, P01-DA008227 and DA042111 and from funds for the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, the Leon Levy Foundation, and the Seaver Family Foundation.


About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City's largest academic medical system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai advances medicine and health through unrivaled education and translational research and discovery to deliver care that is the safest, highest-quality, most accessible and equitable, and the best value of any health system in the nation. The Health System includes approximately 7,300 primary and specialty care physicians; 13 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 415 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and more than 30 affiliated community health centers. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked on U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" of the top 20 U.S. hospitals and is top in the nation by specialty: No. 1 in Geriatrics and top 20 in Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Diabetes/Endocrinology, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Neurology/Neurosurgery, Orthopedics, Pulmonology/Lung Surgery, Rehabilitation, and Urology. New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked No. 12 in Ophthalmology. Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital is ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals” among the country’s best in four out of 10 pediatric specialties. The Icahn School of Medicine is one of three medical schools that have earned distinction by multiple indicators: ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report's "Best Medical Schools," aligned with a U.S. News & World Report "Honor Roll" Hospital, and No. 14 in the nation for National Institutes of Health funding. Newsweek’s “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals” ranks The Mount Sinai Hospital as No. 1 in New York and in the top five globally, and Mount Sinai Morningside in the top 20 globally.

For more information, visit https://www.mountsinai.org or find Mount Sinai on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.