There is no effective treatment for cocaine addiction despite extensive knowledge of the neurobiology of drug addiction1,2,3,4. Here we show that a selective aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 (ALDH-2) inhibitor, ALDH2i, suppresses cocaine self-administration in rats and prevents cocaine- or cue-induced reinstatement in a rat model of cocaine relapse-like behavior. We also identify a molecular mechanism by which ALDH-2 inhibition reduces cocaine-seeking behavior: increases in tetrahydropapaveroline (THP) formation due to inhibition of ALDH-2 decrease cocaine-stimulated dopamine production and release in vitro and in vivo. Cocaine increases extracellular dopamine concentration, which activates dopamine D2 autoreceptors to stimulate cAMP-dependent protein kinase A (PKA) and protein kinase C (PKC) in primary ventral tegmental area (VTA) neurons. PKA and PKC phosphorylate and activate tyrosine hydroxylase, further increasing dopamine synthesis in a positive-feedback loop. Monoamine oxidase converts dopamine to 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetaldehyde (DOPAL), a substrate for ALDH-2. Inhibition of ALDH-2 enables DOPAL to condense with dopamine to form THP in VTA neurons. THP selectively inhibits phosphorylated (activated) tyrosine hydroxylase to reduce dopamine production via negative-feedback signaling. Reducing cocaine- and craving-associated increases in dopamine release seems to account for the effectiveness of ALDH2i in suppressing cocaine-seeking behavior. Selective inhibition of ALDH-2 may have therapeutic potential for treating human cocaine addiction and preventing relapse.
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We thank W.M. Keung for valuable discussions, G. Koob and M. Miles for critical reading of the manuscript, A. Dinkins and K. Wischerath for animal training and D. Soohoo for preparation of the ALDH2i formulation.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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