Research Shows Brain Structures Associated With Drug-Seeking Behaviors Due To Cocaine Use

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Researchers have identified brain structures linked to compulsive drug-seeking behaviors that result from frequent cocaine use. The study published in the Biomedicines journal details the activated neural pathways and structures involved with prolonged exposure to cocaine. Experts anticipate that the research results could potentially aid in shaping the strategy for drug addiction therapy.

Cocaine users have the uncontrolled urge to use

Scientists from the University of Bristol and the Federal University of São Paulo conducted a study using animal models to identify specific brain structures responsible for behavioral reactions to cocaine. The study utilized a 3D quantitative image analysis technique called stereology to identify the brain areas stimulated when repeatedly exposed to cocaine.

The research sought to understand why drug abusers have an uncontrolled urge to consume the drug, possibly due to modifications in various neural pathways within the brain responsible for reward and adaptive behaviors.

According to their study, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), the basolateral amygdala (BLA), and the nucleus accumbens core (NAc core) are involved in both the induction and expression phases of behavioral responses to the drug. However, the ventral area of the mesencephalic tegument (VTA) only participates in the induction phase.

Repeated cocaine use leads to associative learning

The research suggests that repeated cocaine use leads to associative learning. As a result, an individual associates the drug’s euphoric effect with the environment in which it is consumed, establishing a reinforcing system. This system associates two stimuli with the choice or compulsive desire for the drug. Consequently, the environment plays a crucial role in activating and expressing behavioral responses to cocaine.

The lead author of this research, Professor Beatriz Longo from the Federal University of São Paulo, along with Dr. Renan Baldaia, the article’s first author, and Dr. Augusto Coppi, a Veterinary Clinical Anatomy Lecturer at the University of Bristol and an expert in 3D quantitative image analysis, stated that exploring the behavioral changes associated with drug addiction and identifying the corresponding brain structures in animal models presents opportunities for new therapeutic interventions in drug addiction management.

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