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Cocaine Can Apparently Cause Your Brain Cells To 'Commit Suicide'

It might make you dance for hours and stay up for days, but your brain cells aren't seeing the fun brought on by cocaine.

A new study from Johns Hopkins University reportedly found high doses of the drug can cause brain cells to essentially destroy themselves.

According to Huffington Post, researchers looked at nerve cells in the brains of mice and determined the cells engaged in "overactive autophagy" after large amounts of cocaine were consumed.

Autophagy is a process in which healthy cells basically clean themselves out and eliminate needless debris.

If it occurs at a normal rate, autophagy is harmless.

But, if the process is drastically accelerated, the cell eats its own contents.

Evidence of autophagy was also observed in mice whose mothers were given cocaine during their pregnancies, Medical Daily reports.

Dr. Prasun Guha, a post-doctoral fellow at JHU and one of the authors of the study, said,

A cell is like a household that is constantly generating trash. Autophagy is the housekeeper that takes out the trash -- it's usually a good thing. But cocaine makes the housekeeper throw away really important things, like mitochondria, which produce energy for the cell.

After this discovery, researchers tested several compounds that could possibly protect nerve cells from this type of death.

They apparently found a winner in CGP3466B, a compound previously proven to impede the interaction of nitrous oxide and the enzyme GAPDH, both of which are involved in the sped-up process of autophagy brought on by cocaine.

Dr. Maged Harraz, a research associate at JHU and co-author of the study, said,

Since cocaine works exclusively to modulate autophagy versus other cell death programs, there's a better chance that we can develop new targeted therapeutics to suppress its toxicity.

Though it will likely take years to do so, the researchers hope their findings will lead to the development of treatments designed to shield the brain from the damage of cocaine.

This study was originally published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Citations: Cocaine Causes Your Brain To Literally Eat Itself, Study Finds (Huffington Post), High Doses Of Cocaine Cause Brain Cells To Become Cannibals (Medical Daily)