Scientists pinpoint the brain circuitry linked to making healthy or unhealthy choices
(Medical Xpress) -- What drives addicts to repeatedly choose drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, overeating, gambling or kleptomania, despite the risks involved?
Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have pinpointed the exact locations in the brain where calculations are made that can result in addictive and compulsive behavior.
UC Berkeley researchers have found how neural activity in the brain's orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortex regulates our choices. These astonishing new findings could pave the way for more targeted treatments for everything from drug and alcohol abuse to obsessive-compulsive disorders.
'The better we understand our decision-making brain circuitry, the better we can target treatment, whether it's pharmaceutical, behavioral or deep brain stimulation," said Jonathan Wallis, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley and the principal investigator of the study to be published in the Oct. 30 online issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Wallis was inspired to look into the brain mechanism behind substance abuse when he observed the lengths to which addicts will go to fulfill their cravings, despite the downside of their habit: He asked, "What has the drug done to their brains that makes it so difficult for them not to make that choice? What is preventing them from making the healthier choice?"
In the new study, he and fellow researchers targeted the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex - two areas in the frontal brain -- because previous research has shown that patients with damage to these areas of the brain are impaired in the choices they make. While these individuals may appear perfectly normal on the surface, they routinely make decisions that create chaos in their lives. A similar dynamic has been observed in chronic drug addicts, alcoholics and people with obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
"They get divorced, quit their jobs, lose their friends and lose all their money," Wallis said. "All the decisions they make are bad ones."
To test their hypothesis that these areas of the brain were the key players in impaired decision making, the UC Berkeley researchers measured the neural activity of macaque monkeys as they played games in which they identified the pictures most likely to deliver juice through a spout into their mouths.
The animals quickly learned which pictures would most frequently deliver the greatest amount of juice, enabling researchers to see what calculations they were making, and in which part of the brain. The brains of macaques function similarly to those of humans in basic decision making. The exercise was designed to see how the animals weigh costs, benefits and risks.
The results show that the orbitofrontal cortex regulates neural activity, depending on the value or "stakes" of a decision. This part of the brain enables you to switch easily between making important decisions, such as what school to attend or which job to take, and making trivial decisions such as coffee versus tea or burrito versus pizza. However, in the case of addicts and people with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex, the neural activity does not change based on the gravity of the decision, presenting trouble when these individuals try to get their brains in gear to make sound choices, the findings suggest.
As for the anterior cingulate cortex, the study found that when this part of the brain functions normally, we learn quickly whether a decision we made matched our expectations. If we eat food that makes us sick, we do not eat it again. But in people with a malfunctioning anterior cingulate cortex, these signals are missing, and so they continue to make poor choices, Wallis said.
"This is the first study to pin down the calculations made by these two specific parts of the brain that underlie healthy decision-making," Wallis said.
A clearer understanding of how people with addictions make decisions may help remove some of the stigma of this condition, Wallis said. However, Wallis warned that these findings should not be used as a rationale for addicts to maintain unhealthy habits. Chronic drug and alcohol use changes the brain circuitry, and that can lead to unhealthy choices, he said.
If anything, he said, the findings offer hope that, through understanding the mechanism of addiction, treatment can be targeted at these risk-weighing, decision-making centers of the brain.
Provided by University of California - Berkeley
- Could brain abnormality predict drug addiction? Oct 22, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- Could brain abnormalities cause antisocial behavior and drug abuse in boys? Sep 23, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- What you want vs. how you get it: New neuroconomics study Oct 21, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Researchers determine region of the brain necessary for making decisions about economic value May 18, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- People Use Separate Brain Mechanisms to Make Ambiguous and Risky Choices Mar 02, 2006 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
How can there be villous adenoma in colon, if there are no villi there
19 hours ago As title suggest. Thanks :smile:
How can there be a term called "intestinal metaplasia" of stomach
May 21, 2013 Hello everyone, Ok Stomach's normal epithelium is simple columnar, now in intestinal type of adenocarcinoma of stomach it undergoes "intestinal...
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
Ratio of Hydrogen of Oxygen in Dessicated Animal Protein
May 13, 2013 As an experiment, for the past few months I've been consuming at least one portion of Jell-O or unflavored Knox gelatin per day. I'm 64, in very...
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
(HealthDay)—Migraines and depression can each cause a great deal of suffering, but new research indicates the combination of the two may be linked to something else entirely—a smaller brain.
Neuroscience 10 hours ago | 4 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Moving objects attract greater attention – a fact exploited by video screens in public spaces and animated advertising banners on the Internet. For most animal species, moving objects also play a major ...
Neuroscience 12 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
It is known that signs of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's and Huntington's disease can appear years before the disease becomes manifest; these signs take the form of subtle changes in the brain and behavior of ...
Neuroscience 12 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Scientists have reversed behavioral and brain abnormalities in adult mice that resemble some features of schizophrenia by restoring normal expression to a suspect gene that is over-expressed in humans with ...
Neuroscience 14 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have unraveled the molecular foundations of cocaine's effects on the brain, and identified a compound that blocks cravings for the drug in cocaine-addicted mice. The compound, already proven safe ...
Neuroscience 14 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
Existing research shows that bicyclists who wear helmets have an 88 percent lower risk of brain injury, but researchers at Boston Children's Hospital found that simply having bicycle helmet laws in place showed a 20 percent ...
2 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Swiss scientists reveal the mechanism responsible for aging hidden deep within mitochondria—and dramatically slow it down in worms by administering antibiotics to the young.
13 hours ago | 4.9 / 5 (7) | 0 |
Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London have led the largest sequencing study of human disease to date, investigating the genetic basis of six autoimmune diseases.
13 hours ago | 4.5 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Until now, little was scientifically known about the human potential to cultivate compassion—the emotional state of caring for people who are suffering in a way that motivates altruistic behavior.
10 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 2 |
A new approach for immunizing against influenza elicited a more potent immune response and broader protection than the currently licensed seasonal influenza vaccines when tested in mice and ferrets. The vaccine ...
10 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
In a series of lab experiments designed to unravel the workings of a key enzyme widely considered a possible trigger of rheumatoid arthritis, researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that in the most severe ...
12 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |