Use of Optogenetics Provides New Information in Drug Addiction Research Process

Use of Optogenetics Provides New Information in Drug Addiction Research Process

Recent research into the nature of drug addiction is pointing to the connection between specific brain regions, and utilizing technology in methods not previously performed. Called optogenetics, the research explores the way the brain reacts to rewards and uses manipulations of key brain regions and could provide knowledge experts haven’t seen before.

Conducted at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill campus, researchers say the study is giving new insights into how key brain areas – the nucleus accumbens and the area called the amygdala – actually interact. Compared to previous research, the study is able to show more precisely the way certain brain activities occur that are linked to addiction.

As reported in Medical News Today, optogenetics enables researchers to place opsins, a type of protein with light sensitivity, into the specific cells under investigation. Using lasers, beams of light can be aimed directly at the cells that have had the proteins placed in them, and the brain cells’ responses can be observed.

Researchers observed in initial studies that when mice whose brain cells were manipulated with opsins were rewarded with laser activity, they began to perform the activity more quickly to achieve the laser reward. Mice who had not received the opsin transfer did not seek the activity/reward pattern. Additional research included observations that included noting differences between how the opsin-treated mice responded to sugar water.

Researchers believe that modifications at the brain cell level can have a direct impact on the way the brain responds to rewards, and that the research could also be utilized in treatments for diseases like Parkinson’s.

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