Abusing drugs like cocaine can ruin neural pathways in the brain, resulting in cravings, or the desire to repeatedly use the drug. Even though neural pathways are always reshaping themselves, a new study has shown that there is a specific mechanism that leads to cravings for cocaine. Going into treatment for cocaine use can teach you about a healthier life and how to change your thought patterns for the better.

The Discovery of Astrocytes

A new study in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry states that drug-related memories are encoded into the brain because of astrocytes. Astrocytes are the support cells that help neurons to function. The discovery of their role in the brain has opened up new possibilities around the treatment of drug addiction. During the early stages of the brain’s development, astrocytes signal proteins called thrombospondins, that facilitate the creation of synapses. Thrombospondins levels decline when the brain is fully developed as astrocytes are no longer involved in the synapse formation process.

The Involvement of Astrocytes in Cocaine Addiction

A 2014 study found that astrocyte-related thrombospondins increase in the brains of rats after they are given cocaine. This discovery led to the hypothesis of “neural rejuvenation” which states that certain drugs trigger early developmental mechanisms, reorganizing the adult brain circuits involved in addiction. To investigate this hypothesis, the Biological Psychiatry study observed the activity of astrocytes in the brains of rats as they self-administered cocaine. The study also looked at the rats’ addictive behaviors. Upon cocaine exposure, the rats developed a craving for the drug and kept searching for it after it was taken away. This new behavior was a result of the synaptic remodeling of the nucleus accumbens, which is part of the reward circuit and plays a role in learning and addiction. 

The Importance of the Study

Cocaine-related memories had become encoded into the rats’ brains which caused them to be hooked on the drug. By blocking the release of thrombospondins in the nucleus accumbens, the researchers were able to prevent the creation of new synapses in response to cocaine. Consequently, the rats did not develop any addictive behaviors and didn’t continue to search for the drug. Memories associated with substance abuse can be long-lasting and trigger drug relapses, even if you have abstained for a long time. Researchers believe that it is now possible to target thrombospondins to prevent relapse in those recovering from addiction.


Memories can play a big role in drug use. When we remember how good a drug made us feel at the time, it can make us want to experience that same pleasure more and more, without thinking of the serious consequences that follow. A new study showed that blocking certain cell proteins can prevent the formation of new synapses in the brain that make us crave addictive drugs, like cocaine. Studies like this can lead to the creation of new drug treatments. At Alta Loma, we understand just how defeating it can be to give in to your cravings. Located in Georgetown, Texas, our transformative treatment facilities work tirelessly to help our patients recover from their substance abuse, showing them an alternative lifestyle that will lead to good health and beneficial relationships. We offer services such as 12-step programs, individualized therapy, coping skills education, and more. Please call us for more information at (866) 457-3843.