BraIns article published in Nature’s journal Translational Psychiatry

Article written by Brain Institute of Rio Grande do Sul addresses damages of crack and cocaine in the brain

26/05/2021 - 14h50

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An article written by Dr. Rodrigo Grassi-Oliveira, BraIns researcher and School of Medicine professor of PUCRS, in partnership with Dr. Consuelo Walss-Bass, from University of Texas – Health Science Center at Houston, has just been published in the prestigious journal Translational Psychiatry, by Nature Publishing. Lucca Pizzato Tondo, Medical School student at PUCRS and undergraduate research student in the Laboratory of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, took part in every stage of the project. This reinforces the efforts of the University in attracting students to BraIns’ research activities. The article discusses the damages of crack and cocaine to women’s brains.

Cocaine use is known to cause serious social, psychiatric and neurological problems. Some studies show that cocaine is toxic to white matter, the part of the nervous system responsible for transmitting information from different areas of the brain. In this study, a type of magnetic resonance imaging was employed to assess the integrity of the brain’s white matter through water diffusion in the brain. 75 crack and cocaine users were compared with 58 healthy control individuals. In addition, brain tests were also carried out on ten cocaine users who died of an overdose. All functional imaging exams were carried out at the Brain Institute of RS.

“This study showed that cocaine users, in fact, have a very significant and diffuse impairment of all white substances, a process similar to aging, and that this impairment appears to be proportionate to how long they used the drug”, Rodrigo Grassi-Oliveira, research coordinator, explains. Additionally, postmortem brain analysis showed that cocaine users had more inflammation-related proteins and fewer myelin-related proteins, a substance that is essential for white matter integrity. This white matter impairment was especially intense in the regions that communicate the prefrontal areas of the brain, a region accountable for a series of cognitive functions such as self-control, intelligence and attention.

This is one of the largest sample studies ever published on white matter in cocaine users. “This is quite a relevant study for its results converge with two research methods in different neurosciences: brain magnetic resonance and postmortem protein analysis of users’ brains”, Lucca Tondo adds.

Lastly, crack and cocaine users were thoroughly studied. That is a population that lives in an important context of social vulnerability and which is understudied in the scientific literature worldwide. To read the full article, click here.