Brain "lights up" in response to cocaine or opium

Australian and U.S. scientists have proved that the same area of the brain that is activated when the body craves salt ''lights up'' in response to cocaine or opium

News DeskJuly 12, 2011 08:15

Australian and U.S. scientists have proved that the same area of the brain that is activated when the body craves salt ''lights up'' in response to cocaine or opium, suggesting addictive drugs have hijacked a pathway of the brain used for instinctive behavior.

The findings may provide new understanding on treating addiction, Australia's Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Australian Professor Derek Denton said the findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences yesterday, proved a connection between drug addiction and instinct. Until now, the connection existed only in theory, SMH reports.

Researchers deprived mice of salt by feeding them a low-salt diet and diuretics. Three days later, with the help of Wolfgang Liedtke from Duke University, an area at the base of the brain called the hypothalamus was analyzed for genetic patterns.

''What was surprising was when the data in the genetic pattern was examined, it was clear that the genes that the salt appetite had activated were the same pattern of genes that were altered in addiction to cocaine or to opium,''  Denton, of Melbourne's Howard Florey Institute, said.

A separate group of mice were denied salt over the same period. But unlike the first group, they were allowed ''their fix'' of saline solution. Analysis of their brains after drinking the salt showed a difference in the genetic expression in that part of the brain.

Denton, a world authority on salt metabolism, said while cocaine and opium addiction had evolved in the last two to three thousand years, salt was so basic to survival that it has developed over a hundred million years.

The body needs salt for circulation of blood and tissue fluids, for nervous, glandular and muscle function and also for reproduction.

''This suggests that the addictive drugs have hijacked, if you like, the neural pathways and mechanisms which subserve sodium appetite and the gratification of the sodium appetite,'' Denton said.

The other key finding was that once saline solution was ingested, the brain believed it had received its fix well before it was physically possible. Scientists observed that in the brain occurred well before the salt could have left the gut, entered the bloodstream and got to the brain to reverse the changes that had created the salt craving.

''It is an evolutionary mechanism of high survival value because when an animal is depleted of water or salt it can drink what it needs in five to 10 minutes and get out which makes it less susceptible to predators.''

The U.S. team also included researchers from the University of Texas.

Most Recent Blog Posts

5 Ways To Forgive Yourself In Recovery

    Sometimes, in active addiction, we do things we aren’t proud of. We may have hurt the ones we love, do things we are ashamed of, and caused harm to ourselves. We may feel guilty, embarrassed, and angry. Although you may have gotten substance abuse treatment and are...

    Read More

    Recognizing A Problem With Alcohol

       It can be fun and relaxing to go out for drinks with your friends on Friday nights after a long work week or have a cocktail before bed. Many people drink alcohol and do so regularly, but how do you know when your drinking has become a problem? When many of us think...

      Read More

      Which 12-Step Program Is Right For Me?

        12-Step programs are a common part of addiction recovery. Many treatment programs utilize a 12-Step approach, and many of those recovering choose to attend meetings after they complete their treatment. Attending meetings can help individuals maintain their recovery...

        Read More


        21062 Brookhurst St. #201, Huntington Beach, CA 92646

        Call 800.910.9299

        © 2022 All Rights Reserved. Design & Development by Goldman Marketing Group | Sitemap | Privacy Policy The information available on this web site is provided for informational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace a medical consultation where a physician's judgment may advise you about specific disorders, conditions and or treatment options. We hope the information will be useful for you to become more educated about your health care decisions. If you are vision-impaired or have some other impairment covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or a similar law, and you wish to discuss potential accommodations related to using this website, please contact us at 800.910.9299