Among psychostimulants, methamphetamine (METH) has one of the highest risks for progression to addiction. Although METH use is declining in the general population, use nevertheless persists among high school students and adults. Onset of use during adolescence significantly increases susceptibility to developing addiction to METH, and to other drugs, compared with initiation of drug use during adulthood. The mechanisms underlying the heightened vulnerability of adolescents to addiction are poorly understood. As the adolescent brain is not fully developed and undergoes extensive changes until the mid-twenties, we postulate that METH (and other drugs) alters the trajectory of normal neurodevelopment. Specifically, we will interrogate the hypothesis that METH will affect expression levels of mRNA encoding proteins critical for neurodevelopment, but these changes will differ in the adolescent and adult brain. Axonal guidance molecules (AGMs) are receptors and ligands that guide neurodevelopment (e.g. axon guidance and pruning), and are vital elements in neuroadaptive processes in the adult brain (neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity, dendritic morphology, axonal repair). Accumulating evidence directly and inferentially links psychostimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine) to modulation of AGM expression. Pilot or published research from our laboratory and others demonstrated that: (a) METH altered mRNA expression levels of specific AGMs in hippocampus and, (b) the indirect METH target, the D1 dopamine receptor, altered mRNA expression of specific AGMs in vitro. The hypothesis, that elevated potential for METH addiction in youth is associated with METH-induced alterations in AGMs in hippocampus during a crucial phase of neurodevelopment, resulting in reduced neurogenesis and enhanced drug reward, will be tested in 3 aims.
Aim 1 will compare the effects of repeated exposure to a low fixed dose of METH on AGM mRNA expression in the hippocampus and on conditioned place preference in young adolescent or adult mice.
Aim 2 will investigate the hypothesis that METH, acting via AGMs, affects hippocampal neurogenesis differently in adolescent and adult mice.
Aim 3 will investigate whether ephrin B3, a regulator of neurogenesis, shapes drug-seeking behavior in mice, by comparing METH drug-seeking in wild-type and in null mutant mice in the two age cohorts. The research will fill a major void in neurodevelopmental processes that conceivably shape vulnerability to addiction in the adolescent brain, and guide parallel research with other drugs that engender heightened addictive potential in adolescents. With the advent of small molecules targeted to AGMs, the research may lead to novel probes to image and map these critical proteins in the course of human neurodevelopment, to new medication targets that may assist in reversing METH addiction, compromised cognition and affective states. The findings will furthermore provide information for public education on the biological risks associated with early drug use.
Young adolescents are at higher risk of becoming addicted to methamphetamine than adults, as they are to other drugs (cocaine, marijuana, opioids, alcohol, nicotine, inhalants), yet the effects of these drugs on brain development is largely unknown. The proposed research will investigate whether METH modifies expression of proteins that are critical for neurodevelopment, research that conceivably will provide new leads for medications and information germane to public education on biological consequences of early initiation of drug use.