Thursday, February 14, 2013
Newborn Neurons and Addiction
This week in both the readings and in class we have discussed stress and psychological health. In particular we have read about addiction. Recently scientists have made the startling discovery that an adult brain can sprout new neurons. What does this have to do with addiction you might ask? Well it turns out that if the hipocampus is blocked with targeted irradiation, rats are far more likely to become addicted to cocaine and twice as likely to relapse. Substances like cocaine and antidepressants have been shown to increase neurogensis, while stress and schizophrenia decrease it. Not so coincidentally, stress and schizophrenia have been linked to drug usage. Because of this research, scientists are looking into a potential link between lack of newborn neurons and mood disorders, such as depression.
The most interesting part of this research, at least in my opinion, is that the rats did not have an increased stress response. So the study concludes a direct relationship between neurogenisis and addiction, but did not necessarily involve stress. Others have suggested a connection between the part of the brain where newborn neurons sprout could affect reward and memory which would be enhanced with cocaine. While there is clearly a lot more research to be done before we fully understand addiction and its causes, scientists have truly made great leaps in their understanding.