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Scientists gain new understanding about the date rape drug

Major research finding may yield treatment for GHB overdose and addiction

The club drug of choice finally has an enemy. Scientists at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) are making a major breakthrough in understanding gamma hydroxybutyrate, (GHB). The drug also is known as "liquid X" and "the date rape drug."

GHB is a colorless, odorless, tasteless powder that can produce euphoria, confusion, amnesia and sometimes coma. It is now linked to a number of date rapes and more than 70 deaths in the United States.

"One of the problems with GHB is that no one really knows how it works in the brain," said Maharaj K.Ticku, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and psychiatry. "But we have identified, for the first time, the receptor sites for GHB. Receptors are proteins in which drugs work to produce the effects."

Dr. Ticku says every drug has an "antagonist" that blocks its effects. He and his team marked the only known GHB antagonist with a "radio label," which traces the drug through the brain. Radio-labeling the antagonist enabled doctors to see which parts of the brain were effected by GHB.

"This finding will enable us to develop strategies to treat people who are either intoxicated with GHB or undergo withdrawal after prolonged use," Dr. Ticku said. "It will really advance our work in the field."

Dr. Ticku's findings are published in the December 2001 issue of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. His work is funded in part by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He is collaborating with Charles France, Ph.D., of the UTHSC and Andy Coop, Ph.D. of the University of Maryland.

Contact: Amanda Gallagher or Aileen Salinas