News / Health

Scientists Use Brain Stimulation to Cure Cocaine-Addicted Rats

Jessica Berman
Drug addiction might someday be cured with a simple treatment to "wake up" a dysfunctional region of the addict's brain.  Researchers report they were able to eliminate drug-seeking behavior in cocaine-addicted rats by stimulating a part of their brain known as the prefrontal cortex with laser light.  Investigators also discovered they could reverse the effect, turning rodents that were not addicted to cocaine into drug-seekers.
 
For several weeks, scientists exposed a group of rats to cocaine, an alkaloid derived from the coca plant that's used widely - and illegally - as a drug.  The rodents quickly became hooked on the highly addictive substance.  Then, for four days, whenever the rats pushed a lever to get more cocaine, they received a mild and unpleasant electric shock to their foot.

Antonello Bonci, scientific director at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse and a researcher involved in the study, says that after the shocks, 70 percent of the rodents stopped their drug-seeking.  But the remaining 30 percent continued to display addictive cravings for the cocaine, in spite of the foot shocks.

Scientists compared nerve cell firing patterns in both groups of rats by examining cells from a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex.  It’s involved in higher functions, including decision-making, impulse control and behavioral inflexibility.

Researchers discovered that the addicted rats had reduced activity in a part of this brain cortex called the prelimbic region, indicating weakness in the self-control mechanisms necessary to resist the drug.  So investigators devised a plan to bolster the rat's self-control.  The first step was to inject the brain area with a harmless virus carrying a light-sensitive protein.

After several weeks, researchers inserted a tiny fiber optic device into the prefrontal cortex, and transmitted pulses of light to stimulate the sluggish region.

The result, accorded to Bonci, was striking.

“When we turned on some activity in this prefrontal cortex, we could see that the compulsive cocaine seeking was gone," said Bonci.

Bonci says researchers then reversed the process, turning rats that had responded to the foot shocks back into compulsive cocaine-seekers by using the fiber optic technique to lower neuronal firing in their prefrontal cortex.

Bonci says investigators are now designing human clinical trials using external, non-invasive electromagnetic brain stimulation to boost the hypoactive, or inactive, prefrontal cortex of volunteer drug users.

“Our idea now is to set up clinical trials in the near future to basically stimulate this portion of the brain that is hypoactive with the idea that we should be able, ideally, [in] patients to remove craving and seeking an interest in taking cocaine," he said.

The work by Antonello Bonci and scientists at the University of California San Francisco, activating brain regions to curb cocaine addiction, is published in the journal Nature.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid