UI Researchers Find Brain Region That Affects Drug Use Habits
The human brain is nimble. It can reorganize itself to learn new things, catalog memories, and even break old habits. So, what if our brains could be taught to suppress cravings, especially the destructive impulse to use drugs?
University of Iowa researchers studying the infralimbic cortex—a region of the brain that controls addictive behavior—performed a series of experiments in which rats were given cocaine, then taken off the drug. The scientists found that, generally speaking, this region of the brain can be reprogrammed to ease the rats’ cocaine urges.
The finding could help users kick the habit with the help of drugs that target the infralimbic cortex—or with improved behavioral treatment for substance addiction and relapse, according to Andrea Gutman, a postdoctoral researcher in the UI Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and corresponding author on the paper, published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
The infralimbic cortex, a part of the prefrontal cortex located toward the front of the head, is responsible for forming habits and regulating behavior. Think of it as a mental green light or a check on destructive or embarrassing tendencies.
Researchers already knew about that role, but they were unsure how it controlled cravings and other habit-forming behaviors—or whether the infralimbic cortex could be manipulated to temper impulses. The UI team worked with a group of rats that were administered cocaine when they pressed a lever with their paws; the rats did so for two hours per day over the course of two weeks.