The Cerebellum Could be the Key to Controlling Addiction

Turning Point

Camilo, Reporter

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We all know how addiction works. We do something, we like it, we want more of it, we do it again and the cycle repeats. There’s nothing new in that, but recently scientists have found that the cerebellum could be linked to these addictions.

The cerebellum is the part of our brain that is responsible for our cognitive abilities; language, learning, and attention. Typically this part of the brain was not thought to be important when discussing addiction, but according to an article on Medical News Today,  recent studies “found that the cerebellum does not function properly in people with addictive behavior, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), cognitive affective syndrome, and schizophrenia.” This led a team of scientist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY to study the cerebellum.

According to the article “MRI studies have shown that the cerebellum of people living with addiction is hyperactive in response to stimuli that their addiction relates to, such as an image of a syringe.” At first, the team of scientist could not explain why this was, but they hypothesized it had something to do with the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in the brain. The VTA area is the part of the brain that is responsible for producing dopamine. Dopamine is the “pleasure” hormone. It’s the hormone that’s released causing that feel-good moment when you get a reward. It’s also the major cause of addiction. The scientists wondered if the cerebellum and the VTA communicated during these moments of stimulation.

The scientist decided to run further experiments with mice. They genetically modified the mice’s cerebellum to get a pleasurable response when stimulated with light. They put the mice in a box and made them go to certain corners. In one of the corners, the scientist would flash a light that only when the animals were there. What they saw was that time after time the modified mice were more likely to go to the light than the normal control mice. To further prove this they ran more test and every time the genetically modified mice would deny their natural instinct of going to dark places (where they would typically hide from predators and survive) in search of the pleasure from the light.

During this study, the scientist also found that the cerebellum and VTA pathway is correlated with social interaction. The mice were put in a box with three doors leading to three different outcomes. In one the mice would be alone, in the other they would interact with another mouse, and in the final one, they would interact with an inanimate object. The scientist found that when the mice chose to spend time socially the cerebellum VTA pathways where most active but when they were genetically modified to have that pathway turned off the mice preferred to be alone or be with the inanimate object.

This they think could show a correlation between the pathway and not only addiction but also autism and other medical conditions.