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Brain imaging and genetic studies link thinking patterns to addiction
Date:12/25/2007

Scientists have for the first time identified brain sites that fire up more when people make impulsive decisions. In a study comparing brain activity of sober alcoholics and non-addicted people making financial decisions, the group of sober alcoholics showed significantly more "impulsive" neural activity.

The researchers also discovered that a specific gene mutation boosted activity in these brain regions when people made impulsive choices. The mutation was already known to reduce brain levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. The newly found link involving the gene, impulsive behavior and brain activity suggests that raising dopamine levels may be an effective treatment for addiction, the scientists say.

The research is reported in the Dec. 26, 2007 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Lead scientist is Charlotte Boettiger, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Boettiger led the research as a scientist at UCSF's Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center. Senior author is Howard Fields, MD, PhD, a UCSF professor of neurology and an investigator in the Gallo Center. He also serves as director of the UCSF Wheeler Center for the Neurobiology of Addiction.

Our data suggest there may be a cognitive difference in people with addictions, Boettiger said. Their brains may not fully process the long-term consequences of their choices. They may compute information less efficiently.

Whats exciting about this study is that it suggests a new approach to therapy. We might prescribe medications, such as those used to treat Parkinsons or early Alzheimers disease, or tailor cognitive therapy to improve executive function she added.

I am very excited about these results because of their clinical implications, Fields said. The genetic findings raise the hopeful possibility that treatments aimed at raising dopamine levels could be effective treatments for some individuals wit
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Contact: Wallace Ravven
wravven@pubaff.ucsf.edu
415-476-2557
University of California - San Francisco
Source:Eurekalert

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