01:57am Monday 14 October 2019

Party drug grabs brain protein

Working together with a team from the University of Copenhagen the international research group discovered exactly where the transmitter substance binds in our brain highlighting the potential for an antidote to the sometimes deadly party drug.

Their findings have been published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) USA.

The researchers were investigating the biology behind gamma-hydroxybutyric acid when they found it latches onto a specific protein receptor known as a GABAA, says Professor Mary Collins (nee Chebib) from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Pharmacy.

The coupling of drug and protein was strong even at very low dosage states Professor Collins, suggesting to the research team they had located its natural receptor.

“We have identified an important unknown target that can provide the basis for explaining the biological significance of the transmitter substance.

“This opens up new and exciting research opportunities for us,” says Professor Collins.

According to Professor Collins GHB or ‘fantasy’ is recognised as a dangerous social or party drug, because in moderate amounts it has sedative, sexually stimulating and soporific effects. The compound is also abused for its euphoric effect, but in combination with alcohol, for example, it is a deadly cocktail that can lead to a state of deep unconsciousness or coma.

“The drug is an extremely toxic euphoriant, because the difference between a normal intoxicating dose and a fatal dose is so small,” states Professor Collins.

Dr Nathan Absalom, a lead author on the paper, says a better understanding of the biological mechanisms behind GHB-binding in the brain will benefit research into a lifesaving antidote for this drug.

While still a banned substance in Australia, GHB is registered in some countries for use as a treatment for alcoholism and certain types of sleep disorders.

“By understanding how GHB works researchers will be able to assist in the development of new and better pharmaceuticals with a targeted effect in the brain, without the dangerous side-effects of drug,” states Dr Absalom.

Media enquiries: Victoria Hollick, 02 9351 2579, 0401 711 361, victoria.hollick@sydney.edu.au

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