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Study offers insight into women's response to cocaine

January 12, 2017
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A study conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City offers one reason why it should be important to include more women in addiction research. The study found that hormonal changes in women make them particularly susceptible to cocaine's addictive properties.

Published this week in Nature Communications, the study used mice (which experience the same sex differences in drug use as humans) to show that females experienced the most potent effects of cociane at the height of their estrous cycle, when estrogen release is at its peak.

“The mice quickly learned that a particular environment is linked to drugs, and we demonstrated that when these mice, especially females at the height of their estrous cycle, were put into that environment, it stimulated a dopamine reward signal even without cocaine use,” Erin Calipari, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the medical school and co-author of the study, said in a news release. This finding helps to explain why women are more likely to become addicted to cocaine than men, and why they report a greater high during their menstrual cycles.

“Our study will change the way we think about addiction research to emphasize the need to further understand female subjects, as most research on addiction has been conducted in male subjects,” said Calipari.