A fish might be key to controlling addictions

  • A protein found in eel-like fish may help treat addiction.
  • According to researchers from the University of Washington, the lamprey is a type of fish that has been around for millions of years. 
  • The protein from lamprey can help control how brain neurons operate. 

A fish might be key to controlling the brain, according to a study by University of Washington researchers. 

In a paper published in May in Neuron, researchers from the University of Washington, Washington University in St. Louis, and other institutions, who are studying how to control the brain, found that an eel-like fish might be the answer to controlling the function of brain neurons. 

According to the study, the researchers have succeeded in controlling neurons and certain neurotransmitters using a protein called parapinopsin.

The protein can be found in lampreys, an ancient lineage of eel-like, jawless type of fish. Researchers are hoping the protein could eventually be used for controlling mood disorders and treating depression, addiction, and even pain.

Neuroscientists have previously used light-sensitive proteins from plants and bacteria to study neurons, but this was the first time they used protein from a lamprey for research. According to UW Medicine, this type of protein comes from bacteria and humans.

The study found that the lamprey protein has a better response to light instead of chemicals, providing a new way to restrain neurons, like turning off brain circuits. 

Michael R. Bruchas, the lead corresponding author and a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at UW, explained: “We found a particular protein that comes from lamprey that has been around for hundreds of millions of years. We took the gene from that protein and found we can control the way neurons talk to each other, which is how chemicals are transmitted into the brain.

The UW Bruchas Laboratory says parapinopsin was first discovered by a lab in Japan.

Bruchas, who is also the co-director of the Imaging and Neural Circuits core of the Center for Neurobiology of Addiction, Pain, and Emotion, said in a news release: “This is a perfect rationale for why basic science is so incredibly important. Because of someone’s hard work of basic biological discovery, we have a new tool for medical research.”

Source: The Seattle Times

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