Brain’s ‘Dark Side’ as Key to Cocaine Addiction

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have found evidence that an emotion-related brain region called the central amygdala — whose activity promotes feelings of malaise and unhappiness — plays a major role in sustaining cocaine addiction.

In experiments with rats, the TSRI researchers found signs that cocaine-induced changes in this brain system contribute to anxiety-like behavior and other unpleasant symptoms of drug withdrawal — symptoms that typically drive an addict to keep using. When the researchers blocked specific brain receptors called kappa opioid receptors in this key anxiety-mediating brain region, the rats’ signs of addiction abated.

“These receptors appear to be a good target for therapy,” said Marisa Roberto, associate professor in TSRI’s addiction research group, the Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders. Roberto was the principal investigator for the study, which appears in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Carrot or Stick?

In addition to its clinical implications, the finding represents an alternative to the pleasure-seeking, “positive” motivational circuitry that is traditionally emphasized in addiction.

Full story of the brains dark side at Science Daily

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