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Alter Brain Activity to Fight Cocaine Addiction

New Approach Tested in Rats Reduces Cocaine Addiction by Tapping Into Healthier Rewards

WebMD Health News

March 28, 2005 -- Manipulating brain activity in a certain area may allow people to tap into healthier rewards to cure cocaine addiction, a new study shows.

Researchers found that inactivating an area of the brain known as the subthalamic nucleus (STN) reduced rats' motivation for cocaine but increased their motivation for food.

The findings indicate therapies that reduce brain activity in this area may offer a new way to treat cocaine addiction without damaging brain mechanisms that naturally promote healthier rewards.

Keep the Reward, Lose the Addiction

In the study, which appears in the current issue of Nature Neuroscience, researchers evaluated the effects of manipulating brain activity in the STN in cocaine-addicted rats. This area seems to be sensitive to drugs of abuse, say the researchers. Experimental studies and observations have shown that this structure may also have considerable involvement in the modulation of motivation, they explain.

The rats were trained to press one lever for food and another for cocaine. Researchers then damaged a small area of the STN in some of the rats.

The results showed that the treatment reduced the rats' motivation for cocaine and increased their desire for food pellets. The treated rats were less motivated to go after the cocaine than untreated rats, and the treated rats actually worked harder to attain the healthier food reward.

Researchers say inactivation of this area of the brain has also been shown to improve Parkinson's disease symptoms and may offer a new way to treat cocaine drug addiction if more studies confirm these results.

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