Scientists have identified genetic circumstances under which common mutations on two genes interact in the presence of cocaine to produce a nearly eight-fold increased risk of death as a result of abusing the drug.
The variants are found in two genes that affect how dopamine modulates brain activity. Dopamine is a chemical messenger vital to the regular function of the central nervous system, and cocaine is known to block transporters in the brain from absorbing dopamine after its release.
The same dopamine genes are also targeted by medications for a number of psychiatric disorders. The researchers say that these findings could help determine how patients will respond to certain drugs based on whether they, too, have mutations that interact in ways that affect dopamine flow and signaling.