Optogenetics May Lead to Advanced Addiction Treatment

Optogenetics is a technique that integrates laser technology and genetic engineering. Researchers recently used this technology to alter brain circuitry in mice to determine what effect this would have on the reward system and subsequent behaviors. New research suggests that treatment methods that target two specific areas of the brain, the nucleus accumbens and amygdala, could be significant in helping those with addiction or other neuropsychiatric problems. “For most clinical disorders we knew that one region or another in the brain was important, however until now we didn’t have the tools to directly study the connections between those regions,” said Garret D. Stuber, Ph.D., assistant professor in the departments of cell and molecular physiology, psychiatry and the Neuroscience Center in the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, and the lead author of the study. “Our ability to perform this level of sophistication in neural circuit manipulation will likely lead to the discovery of molecular players perturbed during neuropsychiatric illnesses.”

When optogenetics is performed, scientists manipulate specific proteins called “opsins.” These proteins originate from bacteria or algae and are dependent on light. Scientists transfer these opsins in the regions of the brains they want to examine and then control their activity by administering flashes of laser beams. In this study, Stuber and his team discovered that when they activated the connection between these two specific brain regions, the mice experienced a neurological reward. The increased activity through the use of the opsins resulted in the mice learning a specific reward behavior in a much shorter period of time than anticipated. Additionally the mice that were not manipulated, never learned the reward task that the scientists implemented. The researchers believe the findings are significant and can provide valuable information for examining how the brain responds to reward stimulation. Stuber hopes that this research may lead to alternative treatment options for neuropsychiatric problems like Parkinson’s disease.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • DNA


    July 7th, 2011 at 11:56 PM

    But how safe is such a procedure? And what about all the ethical obstructions that such a technique is going to encounter? It looks like a good technique but I can imagine it will take years before it becomes mainstream.

  • Katey boo

    Katey boo

    July 8th, 2011 at 4:22 AM

    This seems pretty promising in this field. I know that the researchers in this area are always looking for new and better ways to treat patients and this seems like it could hold some of the answers.

  • kris drummond

    kris drummond

    July 8th, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    I’ve seen lasers cut through steel like it was butter. If this ever came to fruition, I’m not sure I would really want to go through a procedure that involved one of them getting within five feet of me, even if it is just flashing lights into my brain.

    Hands up everyone who read this and thought about the Men in Black movie. :)

  • C.Donovan


    July 8th, 2011 at 5:49 PM

    Seems like treatment technique straight from the future. And regarding your fears,kris,I’m sure there will be plenty of research done before they actually use it on humans and that it will not get certified or approved unless it is deemed safe. And yes, it did remind me of MIB ;)

  • Arnie


    July 9th, 2011 at 5:12 AM

    I am sorry but this all sounds a little too freaky even for me. This could be all Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I am not too in to that. Let’s try talking it out, lets even try some different medications. But genetic re-engineering? Not for me, thanks.

  • Duncan Isaacs

    Duncan Isaacs

    July 9th, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    @DNA- Mice and humans are completely different species obviously, so the safety of it will always be questioned until it’s done on humans in actual trials with willing participants. It might actually never become mainstream because of the expense.

  • Shaun Maxwell

    Shaun Maxwell

    July 9th, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    Conspiracy theorists will have a field day when the news of this gets out and about. They’re already on about chemicals in the water and other rubbish “facts” that they love to spread as misinformation.

  • Heather S.

    Heather S.

    July 9th, 2011 at 4:40 PM

    It does seem a bit extreme for something like an addiction, and extreme medical procedures are also highly expensive. It also sounds very dangerous if you’re messing around with how the brain works. This is going to need testing well, well beyond mice.

  • Darren Crow

    Darren Crow

    July 9th, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    @Heather S.: We have overcrowding in prison. Why don’t we put the inmates to good use and make them an offer? “If you want to risk this medical experiment, we’ll knock three years off your sentence”. Inmates will jump at the chance to get out early. It’s not like they do any good in jail.

  • Donald A.

    Donald A.

    July 9th, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    @Darren Crow: They don’t do any good out of jail either, that’s why they are in it! I’m sure their victims or the victim’s families will be delighted to hear you’d want to cut their sentences in exchange for taking part in a trial.

    Get real! I’ve never heard such nonsense in my life. Judges decide, not you. They have a sentence to serve laid down by a court and they should serve it in full.

  • rhianna


    July 11th, 2011 at 4:43 AM

    it does not have to be this complicated!
    there are tons of ways to overcome addiction without subjecting yourself to lasers and manipulation.
    i did it with the help of good Friends and AA- it can be done and it does not have to be fancy.
    just willing to make a change

  • Gordon Bowman

    Gordon Bowman

    July 12th, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    @Darren-That’s where moral and ethical decisions come into the mix. Nothing stops medical companies lobbying to increase jail sentences for serious crimes for the good of the country. Their hidden agenda really would be them looking for cheap, dispensable human guinea pigs.

    I’m not joking. Think about it. It would save them a fortune not having to pay the expenses of trial volunteers. And it would save the individual states tax dollars too if anyone died. After all, their not having to house them for the remainder of their term cuts their costs. I’m sure they would also expect some kind of fee for allowing such a program to go ahead.

    Don’t think it can’t happen. The big pharmas have more influence on politicians than you’ll ever know and the states are all clamoring for every penny they can get to supplement their budgets.

  • michael


    November 25th, 2011 at 1:39 AM

    I think you all need to realise that this technique is only to understand how addiction actually works at the level of neurons so that theraprutic drug targets can be identified.It has never been suggested that opptogenetics would be used in humans as it would be extremely difficult and dangerous.

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