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Volume 12, Number 2
March/April 1997

NIDA Sponsors Special Sessions At Society for Neuroscience Meeting


By Michael D. Mueller, NIDA NOTES Staff Writer


The common ground shared by neuroscience and drug abuse research was highlighted at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience last fall in Washington, D.C., with NIDA sponsoring or cosponsoring four major events. "Advances in the neurosciences have revolutionized our understanding of drug abuse and addiction. Similarly, advances in drug abuse research have revolutionized our understanding of brain function," NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner said at the meeting.

The four events-two day-long symposiums on cognitive neuroscience and nonhuman primate research and two evening sessions featuring poster presentations by NIDA-funded minority scientists and scientists early in their careers-clearly illustrated the linkages between the two research communities.


Nobel Nobel laureate Dr. David Hubel, professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, addressed a symposium on nonhuman primate research cosponsored by NIDA at the Society for Neuroscience meeting.


The symposium on cognitive neuroscience was designed to build a bridge between addiction scientists and cognitive neuroscientists, Dr. Stephen R. Zukin, director of NIDA's Division of Clinical and Services Research, told participants. There has been an explosion of knowledge in both fields in recent years, but more exchange of information is needed between the two fields, he said.

"Cognitive function and drug abuse is an area about which we know very little," Dr. Leshner said at the symposium. "We know almost nothing about the cognitive effects of long-term drug use and very little about the cognitive factors that may make a person vulnerable to drug addiction," he said.

NIDA scientists at the symposium reviewed some of NIDA's most promising research in cognitive neuroscience. Dr. Nora Volkow of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, provided an overview of drug actions in the brains of addicts. Dr. Edythe London of NIDA's Division of Intramural Research discussed her recent studies investigating the activation of memory-associated brain circuits during cocaine craving. Dr. Bruce Rosen of Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown reported on work he is conducting that is revealing the interactive nature of brain activities that occur in response to cocaine administration.

Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, who concluded the symposium, stressed the importance of cognitive processes in drug addiction. He pointed out that new medications designed to treat drug abuse will address only part of the drug abuse problem. "A new medication might 'fix' the metabolic machinery, but there will still be many drug-related memories and beliefs," Dr. Gazzaniga said.

Unique Contributions of Nonhuman Primate Research to Neuroscience, a symposium cosponsored by NIDA and eight other institutes of the National Institutes of Health, was designed to provide a forum to recognize the critical role of nonhuman primate research in all areas of biomedical research, according to Dr. Cathrine Sasek of NIDA's Office of Science Policy and Communications, who served on the symposium's planning committee.

"The two greatest challenges in science are to understand the universe and to understand the human brain," Nobel laureate Dr. David Hubel, professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, told symposium participants. Because nonhuman primates are so much like humans, they are unique among laboratory animals in what they can tell us about the human brain and nervous system, he said.


Dr.

Dr. Linda Chang of Harbor-UCLA Research and Educational I
nstitute, right, discusses her poster on "Neuroimaging of
Cocaine Users with HIV" with NIDA's Dr. Rita Liu during
poster presentations at the Society for Neuroscience meeting.


Applications of nonhuman primate models have led to major advances in our understanding of the basic neurobehavioral mechanisms of abused drugs, said NIDA grantee Dr. William Woolverton, a pharmacologist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Nonhuman primate research has become essential in the development of pharmacological and behavioral approaches to treating drug abuse and in predicting the abuse liability of novel drugs, he said.

During the session that highlighted neuroscience findings by minorities, 17 minority researchers presented posters on their NIDA-funded research. More than twice the number of applicants applied than could be accommodated for the session, Dr. Leshner said. "We are extremely pleased with the increase in the number of minority researchers coming into drug abuse research," he said.

Dr. Huda Akil, professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, opened the forum by speaking about the shared subculture of science. "Because brain biology and research lie somewhere in the middle of the continuum between the very physical sciences and the very integrative social sciences, we can use as many points of view, as many ways to ask a question, as many ways to interpret an answer, as are available," said Dr. Akil.

Twenty-one NIDA-funded researchers presented posters at a "NIDA: The Next Generation" forum. Many of them were recipients of NIDA's K01 or K08 mentored awards, which are designed to bring scientists into addiction research early in their careers.

The guest speaker at the forum was Dr. Floyd Bloom, past president of the Society for Neuroscience and editor of Science, who talked about the climate in which drug abuse research is being conducted today. He noted that, while the 6.9 percent increase in funding for NIDA's drug abuse research reflected the recognition of Congress and the President that drug dependence is an important health and social problem, nevertheless that increase still is not enough to allow drug abuse researchers to work at their maximum capabilities.

From NIDA NOTES, March/April 1997


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