A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that high doses of cocaine could "cause the brain to eat itself" in a process known as autophagy, reported Telegraph on Monday.
Autophagy is a self-degradative, but normal process of the body that helps to eliminate unwanted debris, which are broken down by enzymes to facilitate new cell formation.
"Autophagy is the housekeeper that takes out the trash - it's usually a good thing," explained lead researcher Dr. Prasun Guha from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "But cocaine makes the housekeeper throw away really important things, like mitochondria, which produce energy for the cell.'"
In their research, the scientists analyzed the brains of dead mice who showed evident signs of autophagy-induced cell death after being given heavy doses of cocaine. Autophagy was also evident in the brains of mice whose mothers were given the same drug during pregnancy.
According to The Guardian on Monday, the researchers noted an experimental drug that was able to protect the nerve cells of mice from dying of cocaine-induced autophagy, which is known as CGP3466B.
The drug was already reportedly subjected to clinical trials for Parkinson's disease and motor neuron disease, and was found to be safe for use for humans. However, further studies need to be conducted to determine whether CGP3466B can actually block the adverse effects of cocaine in people.
"Since cocaine works exclusively to modulate autophagy versus other cell death programs, there's a better chance that we can develop new targeted therapeutics to suppress its toxicity," noted co-author Dr. Maged Harraz.
In 2013, Dr. Solomon Snyder and his team discovered that nitric oxide contributes to cocaine-induced cell death by interacting with the enzyme GAPDH, but were not able to point out exactly how these cells die, noted Business Standard on Tuesday.
Snyder also pointed out that cells, just like any animal, could die due to extreme temperatures, physical trauma and toxins, but is also capable of committing suicide through the body's chemical program controlled by proteins.