Light used to heal addiction in cocaine craving rats

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Light found in cocaine addiction tunnel
Lasers that stimulate targeted neurons ease drug compulsion in rats
Researchers reduced rats’ compulsive cocaine use by shining lasers to stimulate key neurons (shown in green in this micrograph of a rat brain slice).
B. Chen/NIDA

Rats that will go to great lengths to get a cocaine fix might blame a group of sluggish neurons. Controlling the problem may come down to a flick of a light switch: Stimulating those brain cells with lasers reduces the addicted rats’ cocaine use, researchers report in the April 4 Nature.

“It’s an outstanding piece of work,” says neuroscientist A.J. Robison of Michigan State University, who wasn’t involved in the study. The findings could help researchers better understand the role of neural circuitry in drug addiction in humans, he says.

Scientists know that when certain neurons fire less frequently in the prelimbic cortex, a brain region that handles impulse control and reward-driven behavior, a person’s self-control can decrease. But researchers didn’t know whether using cocaine chronically could make the neurons drowsy to begin with, and whether that sluggishness could also promote drug use in spite of ill consequences.

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