Studies Seek Key to Drug Users’ Impulsiveness

Cocaine use disrupts the brain’s ability to learn with new experiences, according to recent studies that looked at behavior as well as the circuitry of the brain.

UPI reported July 20 that University of Pittsburgh researchers Yukiori Goto and Anthony Grace conducted electrophysiological studies of the effect of cocaine on the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus regions of the brain, along with the nucleus accumbens, and concluded that the drug interfered with brain plasticity, or learning ability.

In corresponding behavioral studies, the researchers found that while rats sensitized to cocaine and placed in a maze were able to learn the solution to a maze with visual clues faster than other rats, they were less able than other rats to change strategies when required to ignore visual cues and always turn left or right in order to get a reward.

The researchers said that while cocaine “might not interfere with learning a response strategy, it may reduce the capacity of these animals to consider alternate response strategies. In this way, the disruption of synaptic plasticity by cocaine sensitization may contribute to the affective and context-inappropriate impulsive behaviors that are characteristic of drug addiction.”

Source: The research was published in the July 21, 2005 issue of the journal Neuron.

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