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Popularity of Breaking Bad elevates important meth research

Walter White introduced millions of Breaking Bad viewers to the underground world of meth. As the nation says goodbye to the popular show, the lasting impact on pop culture could bring more attention to the work of researchers like University of Toledo neuroscientist Dr. Bryan Yamamoto.

“Meth abuse continues to grow worldwide and Breaking Bad, I think, has opened a lot of people’s eyes to what is going on by depicting its damaging effects,” said Yamamoto, professor and chair of the UToledo Department of Neurosciences, who has been studying the impact of drugs such as methamphetamine and ecstasy on the brain for more than 20 years. “I would hope the show does not glamorize methamphetamine and therefore would not increase the popularity of the drug.”



Yamamoto’s newest discovery is that the combination of meth addiction and chronic stress, a common combination for most drug addicts, causes the capillaries in the brain to leak, which could make the brain susceptible to dangerous viruses and bacteria.

A natural barrier comprised of tightly formed capillaries and other cells exists that separates the brain from large molecules such as bacteria present in a person’s blood, but the abuse of methamphetamine combined with chronic stress causes that barrier to be more permeable. It’s a specific concern for the gingivitis bacteria that many meth abusers suffer from, also known as “meth mouth,” that could enter the brain and wreak havoc, Yamamoto said.

A new $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow Yamamoto and his team to study this process using animal models and investigate what causes the opening in the “blood-brain barrier” and how long it persists. He proposes to use animals, which are trained to self-administer meth and are exposed to unpredictable stressors in a manner that reflects how humans are exposed to common life stressors, as a means to examine whether anti-inflammatory drugs help reduce the effects of the opening of the blood-brain barrier.

“The implications of this research go beyond individuals who are addicted to methamphetamine to understand how chronic stress impacts the brain and renders our brain more vulnerable,” Yamamoto said. “In contrast, the basic mechanisms revealed by our studies may provide insight for other scientists who are researching ways to temporarily and safely bypass the blood-brain barrier so drugs used to treat brain cancer that ordinarily do not cross the barrier can have greater access to the brain and be more effective.”

Meth abuse and manufacturing is increasing not only in the United States, but across the world. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1.2 million Americans age 12 and older in 2009 had abused methamphetamine at least once the past year.

Methamphetamine’s popularity is increasing because of how easily and inexpensively it can be “cooked,” despite efforts to control the drugs and chemicals used to manufacture the drug, Yamamoto said. The drug is most commonly smoked or injected and causes a euphoric feeling when the brain releases the chemical dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that controls pleasure.

Yamamoto also continues to research how meth use affects the liver in a way that contributes to brain damage. Read more at

For more information contact Meghan Cunningham at 419.530.2410 or


is UT's Director of University Communications. Contact her at 419.530.2410 or
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