In a study conducted by the University of California at San Francisco and the Ernest Gallo Clinic, laboratory mice that were given cocaine showed the formation of brain structures associated with learning and memory. This finding, which was noted in the August 25th edition of Science Daily, may suggest how drug use could lead to drug-seeking behaviors in humans. These new brain structures were observed to be new synapse growth which causes signals to travel throughout the brain, especially in the front cortex where learning and memory functions are located.
In one study, scientists gave cocaine injections to one group of mice while the other group received saline injections. The next day, researchers examined the rats’ brain cells using a 2-photon microscope. The results showed that the mice that were administered the cocaine showed more growth in dendritic spines—which are associated with signaling—than the control group. Researchers also noted that the growth in these spines were noticeable after the first dose of cocaine.
In another study, researchers observed the mice before treatment and then two hours after treatment. The results of that certain experiment showed that the growth of dendritic spines in the mice that were administered cocaine occurred in just two hours after being given the drug. Furthermore, the researchers noted that when the brain cells of the mice in the cocaine group were studied the next day, there were four times the neural connections than the mice in the control group.
In a third study, researchers gave mice doses of cocaine in a distinctive chamber and saline doses in another chamber. These doses were administered over the course of a week. Each chamber had its own unique design in regards to texture and scent. After the week-long trial, the mice were given the choice of which chamber to enter. The mice that showed the most robust growth tended to favor the chamber where they received the cocaine doses.
Implications and Possible Further Areas of Study
In all living beings day-to-day learning causes the formation of new spines or connections which promulgates reinforcement. Cocaine may enhance this growth of neural pathways and causes reinforcement of experiences while on the drug. The frontal cortex in the brain is where the growth of these dendritic spines is concentrated. The frontal cortex is where decision-making processes may originate.
The findings in this study could help future research in addiction by helping to identify was is going on in the frontal cortex of the brain. Previously, it has been observed that long-term drug users showed impaired functioning in the areas of the frontal cortex in regards to day-to-day functioning. With drug use, functioning shifts towards activities surrounding the drug use and its related associations. This series of experiments can spur further research in the connections between drug use and the alteration of brain structures.
Tim Powers – bald, tattooed, a business professional by day and rocker by night. Sober by the grace of God since the 8th of May in the year of our Lord 2003. Sharing my stories and myself in order to pay it forward. You can follow me on Twitter @tpowersbass42