University of Wyoming researchers are trying to model the brain when it is exposed to drugs.
In a recent publication, Ana Clara Bobadilla, a UW Assistant Professor in the School of Pharmacy, studied mice when they were given cocaine or sugar to see how their brains responded.
"In the addiction field, there is this idea that drugs of abuse hijack the natural reward system, you know, the system that helps us respond to rewards such as food, water, nurturing or sex," she said. "Those are very important for survival."
Bobadilla said the mice learned to press a lever to receive either cocaine or sugar. For each, a different color of light turned on.
Bobadilla then stopped giving the mice the drug or the sugar. After a period, she showed them those same colors of light. That's when she measured their brain activity.
"When you are about to relapse, you don't just go for the drug and take the drug. You usually are reminded of the drug or are in a context where you were taking the drug or something like that," said Bobadilla. "So we're trying to really model this craving [with the colored light]."
Bobadilla said the brain cells that lit up in response to the cocaine color were different than the cells that responded to the sugar color. She said that gives scientists a better clue to what's going on in the brain of someone with substance abuse disorder.
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