Party drug grabs brain protein

18 July 2012

The party drug known as GHB or 'fantasy' binds to a special protein in the brain according to pharmacy researchers from the University of Sydney. Working together with a team from the University of Copenhagen the international research group discovered exactly where the transmitter substance binds in our brain highlighting the potential for an antidote to the sometimes deadly party drug.

Their findings have been published in the scientific journalProceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) USA.

The researchers were investigating the biology behind gamma-hydroxybutyric acid when they found it latches onto a specific protein receptor known as a GABAA. says Professor Mary Collins(nee Chebib) from the University of Sydney's pharmacy faculty.

The coupling of drug and protein was strong even at very low dosage states Professor Collins suggesting to the research team they had located its natural receptor.

"We have identified an important unknown target that can provide the basis for explaining the biological significance of the transmitter substance."

"This opens up opens new and exciting research opportunities for us," says Professor Collins.

According to Professor Collins GHB or 'fantasy' is recognized as a dangerous social or party drug, because in moderate amounts it has sedative, sexually stimulating and soporific effects. The compound is also abused for its euphoric effect, but in combination with alcohol, for example, it is a deadly cocktail that can lead to a state of deep unconsciousness or coma.

"The drug is an extremely toxic euphoriant, because the difference between a normal intoxicating dose and a fatal dose is so small," states Professor Collins.

Dr Nathan Absalom a lead author on the paper says a better understanding of the biological mechanisms behind GHB-binding in the brain will benefit research into a life-saving antidote for this drug.

While still a banned substance in Australia, GHB is registered in some countries for use as a treatment for alcoholism and certain types of sleep disorders.

"By understanding how GHB works researchers will be able to assist in the development of new and better pharmaceuticals with a targeted effect in the brain, without the dangerous side-effects of drug," states Dr Absalom.

Contact: Victoria Hollick

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