Healthy Choices

Blood-pressure medicine could erase cues for drug, alcohol addiction

Rhesus macaque monkeys have been used for research at the University of Wisconsin.
Rhesus macaque monkeys have been used for research at the University of Wisconsin. Associated Press file

Every two weeks, we gather some of the most interesting, intriguing and even oddball studies from health researchers around the world. Here’s the latest:

Researchers using drug-addicted rats at the University of Texas at Austin say a common blood-pressure medication could help erase the environmental cues that fuel the human urge to use cocaine and alcohol.

The scientists first trained the rats to associate either a black or a white room with drugs or alcohol, and the rats nearly always went into the room they connected with that substance, according to a news release. But when the rats were given a high dose of isradipine, a medication normally used to treat high blood pressure, it seemed to erase the rats’ memories of the colors linked to their addictions.

The researchers said drug addiction rewires the brain so that human addicts are strongly compelled to drink or use drugs based on environmental cues, including people, places, sights and sounds they associate with drug or alcohol use.

Erasing those associations with isradipine might help addicts recover, said lead researcher Hitoshi Morikawa. “This drug might help the addicted brain become de-addicted,” he said in the news release. The study was published June 23 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

How to improve survival rates from cardiac arrest

Less than 6 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital survive, compared with 24 percent of patients whose hearts stop inside hospitals, according to a recent report from the national Institute of Medicine.

The report recommends a series of measures to increase survival rates. They include requiring students in middle and high schools to be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of automated external defibrillators, and improving the ability of emergency dispatchers to assist callers in performing CPR.

Cardiac arrest strikes about 600,000 Americans each year and kills most of them, the report said. It is the third-leading cause of death nationwide after cancer and heart disease. Two-thirds of cases happen outside a hospital, in places where immediate help is often unavailable, according to a news release from the National Academy of Sciences, which oversees the Institute of Medicine.

Cardiac arrest, in which the heart ceases to beat, can be triggered by a heart attack – a restriction of blood flow to the heart – but it is not the same thing.

Anxious monkeys often inherit trait from parents

Parents who are anxious or depressive can pass on a particular brain metabolism to their children that puts them at greater risk of suffering from anxiety and depression, researchers at the University of Wisconsin have found.

Though scientists have known for some time that anxiety and depression can be inherited traits, they hadn’t identified the neural systems involved, reports a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By studying a group of nearly 600 rhesus monkeys, which are evolutionary cousins to humans, the researchers discovered that the biochemical processes in monkeys with anxious temperaments differed from their calmer counterparts in a part of the midbrain that controls emotions.

“It is brain metabolism – not brain structure – that is the critical intermediary between genetics and the childhood risk to develop stress-related psychopathology,” the scientists wrote.

Hudson Sangree: 916-321-1191, @hudson_sangree