The Scientific Director of NIDA’s Intramural Research Program talks about switching off animals’ compulsive cocaine seeking by optogenetically activating the prefrontal cortex, and the implications of this work for people. In an accompanying podcast, Dr. Bonci walks viewers through experiments that showed that prefrontal cortex activity levels may constitute a simple switch controlling whether or not animals compulsively seek cocaine.
Dr. Paul E. M. Phillips spoke on “Phasic Dopamine Transmission During Substance Abuse,” describing investigations that he has led into the role of brief, seconds-long bursts of dopamine signaling in addictive processes. Dr. Rita Z. Goldstein spoke on “Targeting the Brain, Cognition, and Motivation for Intervention in Addiction.”
A stressed rat will seek a dose of cocaine that is too weak to motivate an unstressed rat. Researchers traced the physiological pathway that links stress and the stress hormone corticosterone to increased dopamine activity and heightened responsiveness to cocaine.
A can-do attitude, ability to cope with potential triggers for drug use, readiness to change, and participation in self-help programs are major assets for people trying to recover from cocaine addiction.
A NIDA-supported study has found that a cocaine-addicted person’s chance of managing 1 whole year of abstinence correlates with activity levels in these impaired motivational and decision-making brain areas.
In mice, a cocaine-induced imbalance in the activity of two key populations of neurons in the reward system persists for a longer period after repeated exposure to the drug. For long-term users, this change could both weaken the cocaine “high” and strengthen the compulsion to seek the drug.
Two researchers share their reasons for researching transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for treating cocaine addiction, and describe challenges to moving forward this potentially promising therapy.