There may be proof that a single neuron deep inside the brain serves as the controlling force for your habits, according to a new research study.

Some habits are beneficial, such as making the bed every morning and washing your hands before you eat. They allow you to accomplish certain tasks by rote while freeing up brain space for more important matters. Other habits, like the addictive use of alcohol and drugs, do not provide favorable outcomes. Despite efforts to break these habits with willpower and other tricks, they persist. This could be thanks to a single neuron recently identified by researchers at Duke University.

Research Identifies Neuron That May Affect Addiction

More than ten years ago, a group of neuroscientists proved that the origin of repetitive “stimulus-response” behavior lies in the area of the brain called the dorsolateral striatum. Now, a group of researchers at Duke University are exploring this area in greater detail, with the goal of identifying which of the striatal neurons control the brain circuits that are responsible for the formation of habits.

The new study from Duke, published in eLife, focuses on a rare brain cell known as a fast-spiking interneuron (FSI). The study focused on rodents, but the findings could provide new insight into the origin of addiction, which could also open up additional avenues for addiction treatment.

Previous Study Identifies FSIs and “Stop/Go” Brain Circuit

Just last year, the same group of scientists from Duke published a study that revealed how the striatum contains brains cells that fire in both directions: a “go” pathway that signals the desire for action and a “stop” pathway, which will block action.

This earlier research also related to addiction because it shows that, when a habit forms, one of the pathways can become stronger than the other. The “go” pathway may fire before the “stop” is ever given an opportunity to register. The FSI’s only encompass 1 percent of the striatum’s neurons, but their structure links them to 95 percent of the neurons in the stop/go pathways.

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FSI and Their Effect on Habits

When this new study was conducted, researchers used mice that had been trained to push levers to receive a sugar pellet reward. Even when they had already been provided with the reward and no additional treats were available, the mice became conditioned to continue pressing the lever. Once this “habit” had taken hold, the researchers were able to break it by giving the mice a drug which deactivated the FSI brain cell. Once FSI activity was lowered, the mice stopped pushing the lever which was essentially the addictive or reward-seeking behavior.

The Availability of Comprehensive Addiction Treatment

Research related to substance abuse and the root of addiction is still in its preliminary stages, but the progress is encouraging. What the recent studies confirm is that substance abuse is a medical disorder and not just the result of bad behavior or unsavory choices. If you or any of your loved ones are suffering from an alcohol or drug use disorder, help is available. The comprehensive addiction treatment program at The Recovery Village addresses each client with a personalized treatment regimen. Contact us now to learn about admissions from one of our addiction specialists.

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