UC Berkeley researchers find connection between lack of mental stimulation, addiction

Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff

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Researchers found a correlation between mental stimulation and susceptibility to drug addiction by analyzing the effects of cocaine on intellectually stimulated mice.

The researchers trained one group of mice to perform a stimulating task, such as searching for cereal pieces in cups of wood shavings using scent and texture, according to UCSF neuroscience doctoral student Josiah Boivin, lead author of the paper. One control group of mice stayed in its home cages without access to cereal and training, while another control group ate cereal in the training arena without participating in the challenges, Boivin said.

After four weeks of staying in the “relatively deprived” conditions of their cages, Boivin said, all the mice were given cocaine injections in a “distinctive” chamber and then saline injections in a separate chamber. When given the choice of which chamber to return to, over a period of another four weeks, the mice with a history of cognitive training showed less of a liking of the chamber associated with cocaine than did the mice without a history of mental stimulation.

According to Boivin, the researchers used the mice’s preference for the cocaine chamber as a measure of drug-seeking behavior.

“These data suggest learning opportunities may provide additional benefits, enhancing resilience in response to drugs with abuse potential,” said Linda Wilbrecht, senior author and campus assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, in an email.

According to Stephan Lammel, campus assistant professor of neurobiology, a big problem regarding drug use is the high chance of relapse. When people go back to the location where they were first introduced to a drug or often used the drug, the likelihood of relapse is high, Lammel said.

“Our results suggest that relatively brief interventions in young adulthood can have a long-term impact on the brain’s response to future drug exposure,” Boivin said in an email.

According to Boivin, studies that use animal models can lead to the development of ways to build resilience against addiction in people who are at high risk for developing substance-abuse disorders.

The next step could be figuring out where the cognitive feedback is occurring in the brain, which could make it possible to find medical devices that can target these specific locations, according to Lammel.

“It’s very important for the entire addiction field, and there are huge implications,” he said.

Wilbrecht, Boivin and University of Oregon assistant professor and former member of Wilbrecht’s lab Denise Piscopo authored the paper, which was published in the journal Neuropharmacology.

Contact Kayla Kettmann at [email protected].