High doses of cocaine can convince some brain cells to kill themselves, according to a new study. Although the phenomenon has only been recorded in mouse cells, the findings suggest that therapies tailored to disrupt the cell suicide process could potentially prevent or reverse the negative effects of cocaine in human beings.
“We performed ‘autopsies’ to find out how cells die from high doses of cocaine,” said Dr. Solomon Snyder, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and coauthor on the study, in a prepared statement. “That information gave us immediate insight into how we might use a known compound to interfere with that process and prevent the damage.”
Cells are occasionally supposed to kill themselves; to fold up and die for the greater good. One form of cell suicide, known as apoptosis, actually forms our fingers, when the cells in the webbing between our digits die off during early development. Similar cell suicide processes can encourage malformed, malfunctioning cells to die before they cause tumors—when that system breaks, we call it “cancer.”