Drug addiction is a hard habit to break, partly because it taps into brain mechanisms that normally promote attraction to healthier rewards. New research reported in the April issue of Nature Neuroscience suggests a potential way to decrease the appeal of drugs without affecting motivation for normal rewarding activities, such as eating.
Damage to the subthalamic nucleus -- a structure buried deep inside the brain -- reduces rats' motivation for cocaine, but increases their motivation for food. Christelle Baunez and colleagues trained a group of rats to press a lever to obtain either a food pellet or a dose of cocaine. They then lesioned the subthalamic nucleus in some of the rats, and found that these animals were less motivated to get a dose of a cocaine than a group without such damage. In contrast, animals with subthalamic lesions worked harder for food pellets than did normal controls.
These results suggest that the subthalamic nucleus may represent a new target for drug addiction treatment. Curiously, modulation of the same area has previously been shown to improve Parkinson disease symptoms as well.
Christelle Baunez (CNRS UMR6155, Université de Provence, Marseille, France)
Also published online.
(C) Nature Neuroscience press release.
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