Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Nurture Immunises Against Addiction

By Stephen Luntz

Nurturing of infants could be a powerful factor in their propensity to addiction.

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The brain’s immune system has an unexpectedly important role in the response of rats to opiate addiction, a paper in the Journal of Neuroscience reveals. Moreover, this response is determined by the level of maternal care. The findings may transform responses to all forms of addiction in humans.

“Morphine activates the glial cells of the brain to produce inflammatory molecules which signal a reward centre of the brain, contributing to addiction,” says Dr Mark Hutchinson of Adelaide University’s School of Medical Sciences. But if the inflammatory response can be controlled, the rats do not appear to experience opiate addiction.

Nurturing of infants controls the tendency to inflammation, indicating that this could be a powerful factor in addiction control, although Hutchinson warns that the implications are not as straightforward as they might appear.

Nurturing was induced by separating the baby rats from their mothers for 15 minutes each day. While counterintuitive, it has been demonstrated in previous studies that this prompts the mother rat to pay more attention to the baby after its return, inducing an ultimately better nurtured cub.

Cubs raised in this way produced more interleukin-10 (IL-10), an immune system molecule in the brain. “IL-10 works against that inflammation and reward. It completely knocks out this drug-seeking behaviour,”...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.