Neuropharmacology Research Unit (CEXS-UPF)

Drug abuse and emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are generating a serious social problem. This is why Rafael Maldonado’s neuropharmacology group at the CEXS-UPF studies the common biological mechanisms involved in these two phenomena. They focus particularly in nicotine, cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy, and in the possible mechanisms underlying the abusive consume of these substances.

Maldonado explains there are three factors to understand why some people become addictive and others don’t: drug consume (the quantity, the frequency, the mode); social and environmental factors; and individual vulnerability, which includes genetic factors. A classical example of the effect of the environment is how the American marines that were heroin addicts in Vietnam quitted easily once back at home.

In order to understand addiction and emotional disorders, the group, formed by 29 people, uses different techniques: classical pharmacological strategies, using compounds that act on the nervous system receptors; ‘knock-out’ mice in which a specific gene has been deleted in order to understand its function; and animal models for behaviour studies which, according to Maldonado, are very complex but once they are established they allow a good prediction of what can happen in humans.

Maldonado highlights the discovery that specific components of the endogenous opioid system are a common substrate for different addictive behaviours as a major contribution of his group. His dream: that this knowledge gives rise to effective treatments for the addicts, who are people with a chronic disease, emphasizes the researcher.

This article was published in the El·lipse publication of the PRBB.

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