Scientists Use Optogenetics to Stop Rats From Binge Drinking

Posted on January 8, 2014

Researchers at the University at Buffalo discovered a way to change binge drinking behavior in rats. The scientists used a technology called optogenetics, which involves using light to stimulate neurons.

In the experiments, rats were first trained to drink alcohol in a way that mimics human binge-drinking behavior. A virus was used to deliver a light-responsive protein to dopaminergic neurons in the rats' brains. The researchers activated the dopamine neurons using a type of deep brain stimulation called optogenetics, which uses light instead of electricity to stimulate neurons. The rats continued to avoid alcohol even after the stimulation of neurons ended.

First author Caroline E. Bass, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said in a statement, "By stimulating certain dopamine neurons in a precise pattern, resulting in low but prolonged levels of dopamine release, we could prevent the rats from binging. The rats just flat out stopped drinking."

The scientists believe their findings could help provide powerful new ways to combat alcoholism and other addictions. The research was first published here in Frontiers in Neuroscience. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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