Exercise is known to have countless health benefits, both physical and mental, but new research shows it can also be an effective tool in helping people prevent relapse of drug use.
Researchers at the University of Illinois sought to understand the chemical changes that occur in the brain for drug users that participate in an exercise regimen.
An estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S. have a drug-use disorder, with the majority of those suffering from opioid addiction.
Health officials have identified that one of the key elements to helping curb the opioid epidemic is to further understand the biological changes that occur with drug use and how people are predisposed to addiction.
In a study published in the journal ACS Omega in October, the scientists found that mice withdrawing from cocaine and placed in a cage with running wheels, were less likely to use the drug again compared to mice that didn’t have the running wheels.
“One factor that can lead to relapse, even in recovered drug abusers, is re-exposure to drug-related cues (e.g., drug paraphernalia, places where drugs were taken or people drugs were taken with), which can trigger powerful feelings of craving,” the authors wrote in the report.
“Finding interventions that help extinguish the cravings induced by drug-paired cues is a critical step for designing more effective rehabilitation treatments.”
To simulate the experience of a specific drug environment for mice, researchers placed the rodents in chambers with a distinctive floor texture and gave them cocaine injections over four days.
The mice were then moved to a different chamber for 30 days, some with a running wheel and some without.
When the mice were reintroduced to the cocaine-associated environment, the running mice showed a “reduced preference” for the environment. The researchers further evaluated levels of specific chemicals in the mice that are associated with brain signaling, including peptides and actin, a protein involved in learning and memory and is implicated in drug-seeking behavior, the authors wrote.
The running mice had higher levels of hemoglobin-derived peptides while the sedentary mice had decreased levels of peptides derived from actin.
Monitoring peptide changes can help identify biomarkers for drug dependence and relapse, the authors wrote.
“Our findings identify novel molecular correlates of both drug cue exposure and intervention to extinguish the learned associations in two specific brain regions critical to the drug dependence and relapse.”