New research performed in rats suggests that orexin, a brain chemical involved in feeding behavior, arousal, and sleep, also plays a role in reward function and drug-seeking behavior.
Dr. Glenda Harris and her colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania showed that the activation of orexin-secreting brain cells in the hypothalamus, a brain region that controls many vital functions such as eating, body temperature, fat metabolism, etc. is strongly correlated with food- and drug-seeking behaviors. Past anatomical studies have shown that these cells in the lateral hypothalamus also project to adjacent reward-associated areas of the brain.
This study suggests that orexin may be a factor in modulating reward-seeking characteristic of substance abuse. The findings help to better identify neural pathways involved in drug abuse, craving and relapse, which may ultimately help scientists find more effective therapies.
This study is published online August 14, 2005 in the journal Nature and was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to ensure the rapid dissemination of research information and its implementation in policy and practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and information on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the NIDA home page at http://www.drugabuse.gov/.
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