Past research shows that the adult brain can produce new neurons, and a new animal study shows how manipulating neuron production could provide the basis for addiction treatment, Scientific American reported March 30.
Researchers at the University of Texas recently found that they could affect cocaine addiction in rats by blocking neurogenesis, or production of new neurons in the hippocampus region of the brain. Rats with fewer new neurons were more likely to get addicted and more likely to relapse.
The study authors said the findings may hint at why some individuals are more prone to addiction than others. The researchers said that newborn neurons may inhibit the release of dopamine, and that individuals with fewer neurons may be a bigger dopamine rush when they use drugs than others.
If the theory proves accurate, testing individuals for the presence of newborn neurons could predict their predisposition to addiction.
The research appears in the Jan. 6, 2010 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.