Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Brain differences in college-aged occasional drug users


Findings point to potential biomarkers for early detection of at-risk youth

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered impaired neuronal activity in the parts of the brain associated with anticipatory functioning among occasional 18- to 24-year-old users of stimulant drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines and prescription drugs such as Adderall.

The brain differences, detected using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), are believed to represent an internal hard wiring that may make some people more prone to drug addiction later in life.

Among the study's main implications is the possibility of being able to use brain activity patterns as a means of identifying at-risk youth long before they have any obvious outward signs of addictive behaviors.

The study is published in the March 26 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

"If you show me 100 college students and tell me which ones have taken stimulants a dozen times, I can tell you those students' brains are different," said Martin Paulus, MD, professor of psychiatry and a co-senior author with Angela Yu, PhD, professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego. "Our study is telling us, it's not 'this is your brain on drugs,' it's 'this is the brain that does drugs.'"

In the study, 18- to 24-year-old college students were shown either an X or an O on a screen and instructed to press, as quickly as possible, a left button if an X appeared or a right button if an O appeared. If a tone was heard, they were instructed not to press a button. Each participant's reaction times and errors were measured for 288 trials, while their brain activity was recorded via fMRI.

Occasional users were characterized as having taken stimulants an average of 12 to 15 times. The "stimulant naïve" control group included students who had never taken stimulants. Both groups were screened for factors, such as alcohol dependency and mental health disorders, that might have confounded the study's results.

The outcomes from the trials showed that occasional users have slightly faster reaction times, suggesting a tendency toward impulsivity. The most striking difference, however, occurred during the "stop" trials. Here, the occasional users made more mistakes, and their performance worsened, relative to the control group, as the task became harder (i.e., when the tone occurred later in the trial).

The brain images of the occasional users showed consistent patterns of diminished neuronal activity in the parts of the brain associated with anticipatory functioning and updating anticipation based on past trials.

"We used to think that drug addicts just did not hold themselves back but this work suggests that the root of this is an impaired ability to anticipate a situation and to detect trends in when they need to stop," said Katia Harlé, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Paulus laboratory and the study's lead author.

The next step will be to examine the degree to which these brain activity patterns are permanent or can be re-calibrated. The researchers said it may be possible to "exercise" weak areas of the brain, where attenuated neuronal activity is associated with higher tendency to addiction.

"Right now there are no treatments for stimulant addiction and the relapse rate is upward of 50 percent," Paulus said. "Early intervention is our best option."


Co-authors of this study include Pradeep Shenoy, Department of Cognitive Science, UCSD; Jennifer Stewart, Department of Psychiatry, UCSD; Susan Tapert, Department of Psychiatry, UCSD and Psychiatry Service, VA, San Diego Healthcare System.

Funding for this research came, in part, from the National Institutes of Health (grant R01 DA016663-01A1).

Scott LaFee | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Brain Psychiatry UCSD activity difference differences drugs fMRI stimulants

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New supercomputer simulations enhance understanding of protein motion and function
24.11.2015 | DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

nachricht Sensor sees nerve action as it happens
24.11.2015 | Duke University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

Im Focus: Climate Change: Warm water is mixing up life in the Arctic

AWI researchers’ unique 15-year observation series reveals how sensitive marine ecosystems in polar regions are to change

The warming of arctic waters in the wake of climate change is likely to produce radical changes in the marine habitats of the High North. This is indicated by...

Im Focus: Nanocarriers may carry new hope for brain cancer therapy

Berkeley Lab researchers develop nanoparticles that can carry therapeutics across the brain blood barrier

Glioblastoma multiforme, a cancer of the brain also known as "octopus tumors" because of the manner in which the cancer cells extend their tendrils into...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Siemens Healthcare introduces the Cios family of mobile C-arms

20.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens offers concrete solution portfolio for Industrie 4.0 with Digital Enterprise

24.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Compact, rugged, three-phase power supplies for worldwide use

24.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Sensor sees nerve action as it happens

24.11.2015 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>