It’s that really awkward feeling when you walk into a room where all your friends are, and you think it’s because it’s your birthday, but you can’t even remember when your birthday is due to the rampant drug use you’ve been guilty of. That sudden feeling when you realize you’re actually the subject of an intervention. Rats have that feeling all the time, according to this pamphlet drawn in crayon.
Researchers from Maryland’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the University of California at San Francisco have a study published in the journal Nature that details a process where addictive behavior in rats – in this case, cocaine was the vice of choice – could be eradicated by shooting a laser into their genetically engineered brains. Remember when science was just planetary models and trepanation?
A group of rats were made aware of a lever that dispensed cocaine and then naturally separated themselves into two groups, with a control group hanging out nearby. Once the rats go their taste of the white magic for eight weeks, the researchers introduced a small shock to accompany the dose. Some of the rats didn’t mind the shock, while others did.
Continuing previous research that suggested the prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex played a part in compulsive drug use, the team found that the hardcore addict rats had less responsive neurons in that region of their brains than either the control group or the less addicted group. And so the laser light was introduced, and the rats went back to the cocaine levers less and less.
For the upcoming human tests, it goes without saying that nobody is going to genetically alter a human brain and shoot a laser into it. But it’s found that transcranial magnetic stimulation can be used to stimulate activity in the prefrontal cortex without the use of lasers, and has been used as a treatment for depression.
Now if only we could cure that insane heroin problem among seahorses.