Research: How Addictive Drugs can Hijack Brain’s Reward System

Research: How Addictive Drugs can Hijack Brain’s Reward System


A groundbreaking study took place to identify the mechanism of addiction mainly using two different classes of drugs, psychostimulant (cocaine)and opioid (morphine), which were applied on mouse models. An expert team of researchers from Mount Sinai and scientists from The Rockefeller University, worked together under supervision of Dr. Nestler and Jeffrey M. Friedman to accomplish the desired goal.

The whole study was funded by the National Institute of Neuronal Disorders and Stroke and National Institute on Drug Abuse, also a part of the National Institutes of Health. Main focus of the study was on discovering a common reward pathway (nucleus accumbens or NAc) ,basically hijacked by drug abuse which interferes with the fulfillment of basic needs like need for food and water. The study could be helpful for identifying drug- directed behavior in substance use disorders more effectively.

Read More: The Psychology of Addiction

Advanced neuroscientific techniques were used to track neurons in the nucleus accumbens that elicit response from both drugs and natural rewards. From the study the researchers have found an intracellular signaling pathway known as mTORC1 and a Rheb gene which works as an activator of the pathway . It facilitates the “disruption of natural reward processing by the drugs”.

People who suffer from drug addiction or substance use disorder, often face problems controlling their behavior and end up being unable to control the use of the drug. Also their brain cells get affected by this. Addicted people face a lot of problems during and after the withdrawal process.

Caleb Browne said,“By tracking these cells, we show that not only are similar cells activated across reward classes, but also that cocaine and morphine elicit initially stronger responses than food or water, and this actually magnifies with increasing exposure.” The findings may be helpful for future addiction treatment.

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