(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Scientists at UC Santa Barbara are researching cocaine addiction, part of a widespread problem, which, along with other addictions, costs billions of dollars in damage to individuals, families, and society. Laboratory studies at UCSB have revealed that the diminished brain function and learning impairment that result from cocaine addiction can be treated and that learning can be restored.
Karen Szumlinski, a professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at UCSB, and her colleagues Osnat Ben-Shahar and Tod Kippin, have worked in the field of addiction for many years. Senior author of a paper on this topic published recently in The Journal of Neuroscience, Szumlinski is particularly interested in the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, where the process of "executive function" or decision-making is located. This area is involved in directing one's behavior in an appropriate manner, and in controlling behavior.
With her research team, Szumlinski discovered that a drug that stimulates a certain type of glutamate receptor when aimed at the prefrontal cortex could restore learning impairment in rats with simulated cocaine addiction.
"Needless to say, this (the prefrontal cortex) is one of the last parts of the brain to develop, and, of relevance to our students, continues to develop through about age 25 to 28," said Szumlinski.
Szumlinski explained that in the prefrontal cortex there seems to be "hypo-frontality," or reduced functioning, in drug addicts, as well as in patients with a range of neuropsychiatric diseases, including schizophrenia, depression, and attention deficit disorder.
Szumlinski calls the prefrontal cortex a late-developing brain area that is critical for making proper decisions, and inhibiting behavior. "You damage this brain region and you lose the ability to self-regulate, you make impulsive decisions like engaging in risky sexual beha
|Contact: Gail Gallessich|
University of California - Santa Barbara