Dopamine signaling is also affected by recreational drug usage, which often impairs the nervous system. Postdoctoral associate at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University Michelle Sahai notes that this research produces a significant basis for more understanding of how dopamine functions in the onset of brain disorders. She also studies the effects of cocaine on dopamine transporters, which provides insight into the link between neurological disease and addiction.
To understand the significance of dopamine on the nervous system, it is important to know how it works on a basic level. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter regulating the behavioral, cognitive and emotional functioning in the body. It is activated by external stimuli which then produces even more of the substance in a chain reaction. A protein known as the dopamine transporter curbs the production of dopamine to prevent an excessive build-up of the chemical. After it is controlled, the neurotransmitter returns to the nerve cells to be used again in the future. However, drugs such as cocaine wreak havoc on the nervous system because they prevent dopamine from binding to the transporter. This creates an excessive amount of the neurotransmitter, which causes the euphoric feeling known as the “high.” The subsequent build-up of dopamine also contributes to the eventual addiction and abuse of drugs.
Using the world’s seventh-fastest supercomputer, Sahai studies the effects of various drugs on the inhibition of dopamine binding to its transporter. Her research is focused on creating a cocaine binding inhibitor that does not suppress the dopamine transporter. She notes that this will help “better understand drug abuse and add information on what’s really important in designing therapeutic strategies to combat addiction.” In addition, her research has also helped identify a connection between de novo mutations in the dopamine transporter and Parkinson’s.
In a study conducted by Copenhagen University, scientists found that de novo mutations produce tremors, loss of motor control, and depression. It also reported that these mutations are a contributing factor for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although there is still much more work to be done to cure neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, the fact remains that understanding the mechanisms behind chemicals in the brain contributing to these diseases is a giant first step. As technology improves and research is expanded, we will be much closer to curing each neurological disease.