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UCSB study explores cocaine and the pleasure principle
Date:3/5/2014

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) On the other side of the cocaine high is the cocaine crash, and understanding how one follows the other can provide insight into the physiological effects of drug abuse. For decades, brain research has focused on the pleasurable effects of cocaine largely by studying the dopamine pathway. But this approach has left many questions unanswered.

So the Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory (BPL) at UC Santa Barbara decided to take a different approach by examining the motivational systems that induce an animal to seek cocaine in the first place. Their findings appear in today's issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

"We weren't looking at pleasure; we were looking at the animal's desire to seek that pleasure, which we believe is they key to understanding drug abuse," said Aaron Ettenberg, a professor in UCSB's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences who established the BPL in 1982. The lab has been particularly active in the development and use of novel behavioral assays that provide a unique approach to the study of drug-behavior interactions.

The findings suggest that the same neural mechanism responsible for the negative effects of cocaine likely contribute to the animal's decision to ingest cocaine. "Just looking at the positive is looking at only half the picture; you have to understand the negative side as well," said Ettenberg.

"It's not just the positive, rewarding effects of cocaine that drive this desire to seek the drug" he said. "It's the net reward, which takes into account the negative consequences in addition to the positive. Together the two determine the net positive output that will lead to the motivated behavior."

Ettenberg's team chose to study norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline), because cocaine is known to act upon this primary neurotransmitter. The researchers chose two places in the brain the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) and the central n
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Contact: Julie Cohen
julie.cohen@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert  

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UCSB study explores cocaine and the pleasure principle
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