Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Spotlighting Dopamine to Probe Alcohol Addiction

That is the title of this article I am writing about. “A new technology called optogenetics is helping researchers gain a better understanding of the neurochemical basis of addiction.  Optogenetics allows researchers to control the activity of specific populations of brain cells, or neurons using light.  Amazingly, we have pond scum to thank for the new technique; the method was devised to understand how the tiny green algae that give pond scum its distinctive color detect and use light to grow.  The technology allowed Evgeny A. Budygin, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, to address critical questions regarding the roles of dopamine in alcohol drinking-related behaviors.  Well it is nice to see that technology can be used in different ways.  To be able to use it in alcohol addiction to find and help people who may have a problem drinking.
How will the use this technology? “With this technique, we’ve basically taken control of specific populations of dopamine cells, using light to make them respond almost like flipping a light switch, said Budygin.  These data provide us with concrete direction about what kind of patterns of dopamine cell activation might be most effective to target alcohol drinking, The latest study for Budygin and his team has been published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. Co-author Jeffrey L. Weiner, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest Baptist, said one of the biggest challenges in neuroscience had been to control the activity of brain cells in the same way that brain controls them. With optogenetics, neuroscientists can turn specific neurons on or off at will, providing that those neurons actually govern specific behaviors.”  What dopamine cells get turned on or off when you are drinking is a good way to find out how to stop.  How that will battle drinking is impressive.  I know for some people quitting drinking is a very hard thing to do.  I finally quit when I wanted to.  I did learn some good things through groups and A.A. but what really made be quit is the crime I did to go to the state hospital it was finally the bottom for me.
The article goes on to say: “We have known for many years what areas of the brain are involved in the development of addiction and which neurotransmitters are essential for this process, Weiner said.  We need to know the casual relationship between neurochemical changes in the brain and addictive behaviors, and optogenetics is making that possible now.  Using a rodent model, the researchers used cutting-edge molecular techniques to express the light-responsive channel rhodopsin protein in a specific population of dopamine cells in the brain-reward system.  They then implanted tiny optical fibers into this brain region and were able to control the activity of these dopamine cells by flashing a blue laser on them.  You can place and electrode in the brain and apply an electrical current to mimic the way brain cells get excited, but when you do that you’re activating all the cells in a part of the brain-reward system.  Using this technique, we discovered distinct patterns of dopamine cell activation that seemed to be able to disrupt the alcohol-drinking behavior of the rats.  A different way to combat alcoholism would be great it does cause a lot of problems if you are an alcoholic like I was.  It causes crime and behaviors you wish you had never done.
The ending of the article states: “Weiner said there is translational value from the study because ‘it gives us better insight into how we might want to use something like deep-brain stimulation to treat alcoholism.’  Doctors are starting to use deep-brain stimulation to treat everything from anxiety to depression and while it works, there is little scientific understanding behind it, he said.  Budygin agreed. Now we are taking the first steps in this direction, he said.  It was impossible before the optogenetics era.”  That is great to not have to take a pill to make you stop drinking now there are new ways to help.  When you are drunk you do stupid things if this will help people I am all for it.

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