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Deep brain stimulation could help fighting drug and alcohol addictions

In order to successfully combat addictions it is crucially important to understand mechanisms behind them. Now scientists from the University of New South Wales identified brain pathways linked to addiction. Furthermore, this research also showed that by manipulating these pathways it is possible to effectively reduce drug seeking behaviour and motivation for alcohol.

WHO estimates that at least 15.3 million globally persons have drug use disorders. Pictured: The subthalamic nucleus (STN) is shown in green, while the thalamus is shown in yellow. Image credit: Hartmann CJ, Chaturvedi A and Lujan JL via Wikimedia, CC-BY-4.0

WHO estimates that at least 15.3 million globally persons have drug use disorders. Pictured: The subthalamic nucleus (STN) is shown in green, while the thalamus is shown in yellow. Image credit: Hartmann CJ, Chaturvedi A and Lujan JL via Wikimedia, CC-BY-4.0

World Health Organization is estimating that harmful use of alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths each year and at least 15.3 million persons have drug use disorders. People know that these substances are extremely harmful and yet quitting them is very difficult. Now scientists think that maybe deep brain stimulation could be the answer as they identified main pathways behind substance abuse. There are various treatments even now, but they are not very effective because of one single reason – we still do not fully understand how the brain’s neural circuits contribute to different forms of relapse.

Mapping these circuits could be the answer. A number of previous studies showed that brain’s ventral pallidum area, which is normally involved in regulating motivation, behaviour, and emotions, is key for promoting relapse. Activity in this region has been proven to be implicated in a variety of drugs of abuse including cocaine, amphetamines and alcohol. This led scientists to think that new addiction treatment should address the ventral pallidum region in the brain.

Now scientists for the first time ever have managed to identify two distinct ventral pallidum output brain pathways, important for different forms of alcohol-related relapse. During relapse behaviour these pathways are turned on. Scientists conducted experiments with rat models.

They switched off these newly identified brain pathways and noticed that rats expressed less drug seeking behaviour and motivation for alcohol. These are very good news as these findings could potentially result in novel treatments for substance abuse. Dr Asheeta Prasad, first author of the study, said: “Deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus is currently used to manage Parkinson’s disease, but has not yet been tested in the treatment of addiction. It is a certainly a potential future treatment for relapsing disorders such as drug addiction and obesity”.

Addictions are extremely hard to combat. Even after years of clean living drug and alcohol addicts fall back into the substance abuse. Therefore, new treatments are necessary and hopefully researches like this bring them a step closer.

Sources: unsw.edu.au  ;  who.int