Dr. Nora Volkow on NIDA's Neuroscience Research

NIDA scientists and grantees bring brain science to life in these video interviews conducted at NIDA's 2012 Frontiers in Science mini convention at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C. Learn about their research in their own words.

Video length: 4:05


Dr. Nora Volkow speaking:

What excites me most about the brain science is the opportunity to try to understand what makes us uniquely human, what drives our behaviors, how we respond to others.

Of all of the objects that we know in the universe, probably the most complex is the human brain, and yet, each one of us is privileged to have one of those organs, and therefore, the big challenge is to understand how it works.

The field of neuroscience is fantastic, and the field of substance abuse, in particular, is a unique one because it allows you to do a model via in the animal model the use of a drug that specifically changes the way that the brain function on areas involved with motivation, drive, self-control, and in the humans you have the opportunity to understand how exposure to drugs can ultimately affect the basis of what we call control and self-regulation and free will.

And that's what's so extraordinary, exciting, because what we do -- a lot of things that we do require the motivation and the drive to do them, and that is the circuit that is fundamental for the process of drug addiction, so that the insights that we get by studying drugs of abuse or by investigating patients who have unfortunately become addicted
to drugs.

We're gaining an understanding of basic functions of what makes you uniquely human beings.

Brain science has told us an enormous amount.

To start with, we now understand why certain drugs, and not others, for example, can produce addiction, and that relates to their ability to directly or indirectly activate a reward centers that are modulated, among others, by dopamine, but we've also started to understand what are the changes in the brain associated with repeated drug use, that are ultimately lose -- lead to the loss of self control and the compulsive intake that characterizes addiction.

And what's interesting is in the process of understanding what are the circuits involved with the loss of control in addiction, we've also started to understand what is the neurobiology underlying not just self control, but in the process, the context of free will.

The ability to want to do something and be able to carry it through, or the ability to stop something and be able to inhibit.

NIDA's neuroscience priorities are very ambitious.

Number one, to develop the science that will allow us to better understand the mechanisms that lead to vulnerability for drug experimentation and ultimately for the transition from experimentation to addiction such that we can develop better prevention strategies.

The other one relates, also, to the knowledge that will allow us to understand what are the genetic, epigenetic molecular circuitry and social-level constructs that drives the transition from drug intake that is control to drug intake that is automatic and compulsive in addiction, such that we can develop better treatments, and that entails both behavioral interventions that can help
remediate some of the changes produced by drugs, but also medications that will also help us accelerate the recovery of the brain so that it can go back to its state where it can
regulate and control that desire to take drugs.