Researchers from the Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit at the University of Oxford and the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences have identified a novel mechanism by which the brain produces powerful lasting memories that drive ill-advised actions.
Focusing on cocaine experience, the researchers demonstrate how the collective activity of many nerve cells distributed across the brain underlies the persistence of such memories, providing new insights into why drug-seeking behaviours could lead to addiction.
It is already known that many recreational drugs produce particularly powerful memories, which associate the experience of drug use with surrounding information such as what the user was doing at the time or where they were. However, it is not clear how such robust memories are formed in the brain. Using mice, the researchers were able to identify a special pattern of nerve cell activity that is responsible for the re-occurrence of these abnormally strong memories.
The researchers suggest that a possible explanation as to why certain unwanted memories are abnormally strong may be because those memories leverage the large-scale cooperation between multiple brain regions. The researchers chose to focus on cocaine experience to model salient experience that alters behaviour; and one with obvious implications.