Validation of SLC18A1 gene in methamphetamine use by A/Prof Jee Hyun Kim

Posted on July 11, 2019

Associate Professor Jee Hyun Kim is an Australian behavioural neuroscientist and her work focuses on emotional learning and memory during childhood and adolescence. She is an active science communicator and principal research fellow and Head of Developmental Psychobiology Laboratory at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia. Prof Kim is also Adjunct Associate Professor at Icahn School of Medicine, Mt Sinai Hospital, NY. 

Author Quotes:  

We wanted to ask, well now that we’ve tried to have a model in animals that sort of reflects what happens in humans in terms of behaviour, can these extra things we’ve observed in animals be translated into humans?

We decided to focus on the extinction of a methamphetamine-associated cue in meth users, and also their gene expression changes – not in the brain but we can genotype them in the blood in the polymorphism way.

Schizophrenia is also a neurodevelopmental disorder and very tied to age and sex, and siblings that use meth are more likely to develop schizophrenia a study has shown.

Summary and slides:  

In this final part of Professor Kim’s talk, she continues with the topic of methamphetamine self-administration in adolescents and adults and the resulting changes in gene expression in the dorsal striatum. 

Summarising the results from the animal studies conducted, she describes the relevance of the protein VMAT1 and its relevance to humans. 

Prof Kim describes how her research team were able to carry out studies in humans to answer the hypothesis statement below. The group consisted of people diagnosed with chronic but not acute meth use disorder. 

She explains how they used food cues for the controls to replicate excitement levels in meth users on seeing a meth cue, and measured craving response.  

Prof Kim ends this presentation by showing the real benefit of an animal model to understand humans better, and how we can ask the question of causality – does this gene cause vulnerability in behaviour? 

Take Home Points:  

  • The onset of methamphetamine use during adolescence leads to stronger methamphetamine-seeking when it is unavailable, and stronger cue-induced relapse. 
  • Reduction in SLC18A1/VMAT1 expression may indicate ineffective dopamine recycling. 
  • The protein VMAT1 is extremely highly conserved between rats and humans. 
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