March 29, 2002
Volume XXXV, No. 13


Of Note


GHB research may yield a treatment for overdose and addiction



Two Health Science Center professors are credited with a major breakthrough in understanding the drug gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB). Drs. Maharaj Ticku and Charles France have identified receptor sites for GHB. Receptors are the proteins where drugs work to produce their effects.

GHB also is known as "liquid X" and the "date rape drug." It causes euphoria, confusion, amnesia and sometimes coma. The FDA banned its use in 1990. The drug is now linked to more than 70 deaths in the United States.

"Scientists don't know how GHB really works in the brain," said Dr. Ticku, professor of pharmacology and psychiatry. "But we have identified, for the first time, the receptor sites for GHB using a radio labeled antagonist."

Dr. Ticku says every drug has an antagonist that blocks its effects. He and Dr. France 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 are affected by GHB.

"The goal of our research is twofold. First we are developing new compounds that can be used in the laboratory to investigate the pharmacology of GHB, and potentially, in the clinic to treat GHB abuse and dependence," Dr. France said. "Second, we are discovering the role of specific receptor systems in the abuse-related effects of GHB."

Drs. Ticku and France are collaborating with Dr. Richard Lamb, department of psychiatry, and Dr. Andy Coop of the University of Maryland.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the research. The results are published in the December 2001 Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.