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Memory may draw addicts back to cocaine

Nostalgia may be a recovering drug addict's worst enemy. A memory center of the brain acts as an ignition switch for relapse into cocaine addiction, scientists suggest in the May 11 Science.

The researchers electrically stimulated the hippocampus in the brains of formerly drug-addicted rats. The treatment reignited powerful cravings for cocaine.

"It is the first time anyone has ever been able to stimulate relapse by [electrically] stimulating a brain circuit," says coauthor Eliot L. Gardner of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Baltimore.

The finding suggests that the hippocampus, an area that participates in the recall of memories, and a chemical it releases play important roles in addiction relapses, report Gardner, Stanislav R. Vorel of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and their colleagues. The study could lead in 10 to 15 years to novel drugs to stem the cravings that lead to relapses of addiction, Gardner says.

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