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Newborn Neurons, a Key to Prevention?

A recent study by the University of Texas reports one of the most exciting neuroscience discoveries to date regarding prevention, as reported by the Scientific American, that addresses why some people are more prone to drug and alcohol addiction than others. What they found: there are new neurons born in the adult brain. This study, which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience, could hold key insight to prevention mechanisms and future models of studying addiction.

To show that a lack of neurogenesis, or birth of new neurons, can actually cause drug or alcohol addiction, the researchers blocked neurogenesis, the production of new neurons, in the hippocampus region of the brain of rats. They found the rats with fewer newborn neurons were more likely to become addicted and more likely to relapse after withdrawal or detox periods. The researches speculated that this may be the reason some people are more at risk when it comes to substance abuse. Based on the study’s results and evidence from other studies on addiction and the hippocampus, the research suggests that newborn neurons may inhibit the release of dopamine (a major chemical messenger of rewards signals in the brain). Also, people with fewer newborn neurons may get a bigger dopamine rush with the use of drugs or alcohol than others.

This is the strongest evidence to date in support of there being real biological reasons as to why some people might be more vulnerable to addiction than others. And it gives a better idea of the role of newborn neurons in the brain. Neuroscience research on addiction has mainly focused on the role of the reward centers in the brain, more increasingly, the hippocampus. In light of now knowing that new neurons are born in the hippocampus, recent research has sought to understand how adult neurogenesis is involved in addiction. The researchers concluded that there is a direct correlation between neurogenesis and addiction.

Ultimately this theory could lead to testing individuals for the presence of newborn neurons and may predict their predisposition or increased risk of addiction. This could prove to be an invaluable prevention and rehabilitation tool.

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