Targeted brain manipulation could cure depression and gambling addiction

Targeted brain manipulation could cure depression and gambling addiction

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Risk or security? This choice is disturbed for mental illnesses

Do we choose a safe or risky approach to an action? We weigh this decision several times a day. Risky action often promises greater benefits, but it also harbors more dangers that the action will not achieve the desired result. A safe approach is usually associated with fewer dangers, but often also with more effort or fewer advantages. This choice is manipulated in certain mental illnesses such as depression or impulse control disorders such as gambling addiction. Researchers have now found a possible way to bring the decisions back into the correct relationship through targeted counter-manipulation.

Neurologists from MedUni Vienna and the NYU School of Medicine have jointly discovered how brain activity can be used to determine whether an individual is going to take a risky or safe action next. In the animal model, the researchers were able to show that stimulating certain nerve cells can change this decision. The team recently presented the research results in the journal "Neuron".

What do gambling addiction and depression have in common?

As the researchers report, the free choice between risky and safe action is disturbed in depression as well as in existing gambling addiction. It is very difficult for those affected to change something in this situation themselves. Depressed people tend to have an excessive need for security. "Coming out of bed safety even in the morning becomes an often insurmountable challenge," study author Johannes Passecker explains in a press release on the study results.

Game addicts tend to be chronically risk-taking

In the case of gambling addicts, however, the opposite is true. According to Passecker, those affected remain in the same way of thinking and are therefore no longer able to correctly assess the possible losses and consequences of their risk-taking actions. The timely switch to the safety variant is disrupted for these people.

Course of the study

The study team tested its research on rats. In a series of experiments, the animals had a choice between a safe and a risky variant. In the safe variant, the animals always received a small amount of feed. In the risky variant, the rodents could get four times the amount of feed or go completely empty. These conditions were changed several times during the tests. Over time, the animals developed a strategy between risk and safety that allowed them the highest possible yield. The brainwaves of the rats were recorded and analyzed throughout the experiment.

Recognize risk or safety from brain waves

Based on the neuronal activity in a specific brain region, the so-called prefrontal cortex, the researchers were able to predict whether the rat would choose a safe or risky approach. Every time the activity of the nerve cells in this region of the brain increased significantly, the rodents decided to take the safe route. If the activity remained low, the risk variant was chosen.

How rats can be encouraged to take more risks

In further experiments, the research team was able to stimulate the rodents' brains by choosing the risky variant. To do this, they introduced artificial proteins into the rat brain, which could then be activated using a laser. When activated, these proteins suppressed prefrontal cortex activity. "As a result, the rats always took full risk and ignored even continued failure," write the researchers.

New treatment option for mental illness?

The goal of the scientists is to identify the pathways and cell types in the brain that are responsible for changing or maintaining behavior. It should also be better deciphered how the different brain regions bring together the relevant aspects that ultimately lead to a decision. "This could make it possible in future to better understand and better treat diseases such as gambling addiction, but also depression," the brain experts sum up.

Brain research is making progress

A research team has only recently been able to make thoughts readable. Neurologists decoded the brainwaves of rats and recognized the animals' future actions in advance. (vb)

Author and source information

Video: 10 Signs You Are Addicted To Gambling: Stop Addiction To Casinos and Online (July 2022).


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