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The Scripps Research Institute and the University of California, San Diego, (UCSD) School of Medicine have been awarded approximately $7.5 million over five years to develop novel compounds that could eventually become drug candidates for the treatment of nicotine dependence, and possibly other drug addictions. Of the funds awarded, $5 million will go to Scripps Research, $2.5 million to UCSD.

The grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will fund research focused on finding novel positive modulators for GABAB receptors that have the potential to become treatments for nicotine addiction. GABAB receptors, found in the central nervous system, mediate some of the actions of GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain involved in regulating several brain functions, including reward signals that play a role in drug addiction.

Consortium principal investigators are Patrick R. Griffin, chair of the Department of Molecular Therapeutics and director of the Translational Research Institute on the Jupiter, Florida campus of Scripps Research; M.G. Finn, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology on the La Jolla, California campus of Scripps Research; and consortium director Athina Markou, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCSD and adjunct professor in the Scripps Research Molecular and Integrative Neurosciences Department (MIND).

“We’re looking for small molecules that will affect very complex feedback mechanisms in the brain, but in a subtle way,” Finn said of the new project. “While the field has focused on some obvious receptor pathways in the brain, these are involved in many different functions and side effects are impossible to avoid. Positive modulation of GABAB receptors – if we can find the right agent – has strong potential to help people resist the addiction impulse without messing with the main circuitry of the brain.”

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