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Wake Forest Baptist researchers study alcohol addiction using optogenetics
Date:12/15/2013

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. Dec. 15, 2013 Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers are gaining a better understanding of the neurochemical basis of addiction with a new technology called optogenetics.

In neuroscience research, optogenetics is a newly developed technology that allows researchers to control the activity of specific populations of brain cells, or neurons, using light. And it's all thanks to understanding how tiny green algae, that give pond scum its distinctive color, detect and use light to grow.

The technology enables researchers like Evgeny A. Budygin, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist, to address critical questions regarding the role of dopamine in alcohol drinking-related behaviors, using a rodent model.

"With this technique, we've basically taken control of specific populations of dopamine cells, using light to make them respond almost like flipping a light switch," said Budygin. "These data provide us with concrete direction about what kind of patterns of dopamine cell activation might be most effective to target alcohol drinking."

The latest study from Budygin and his team published online in last month's journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. Co-author Jeffrey L. Weiner, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest Baptist, said one of the biggest challenges in neuroscience has been to control the activity of brain cells in the same way that the brain actually controls them. With optogenetics, neuroscientists can turn specific neurons on or off at will, proving that those neurons actually govern specific behaviors.

"We have known for many years what areas of the brain are involved in the development of addiction and which neurotransmitters are essential for this process," Weiner said. "We need to know the causal relationship between neurochemical changes in the brain and addictive behaviors, and optogenetics is maki
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Contact: Bonnie Davis
bdavis@wakehealth.edu
336-716-4977
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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