ScienceDaily (Dec. 30, 2007) — Scientists have for the first time identified brain sites that fire up more when people make impulsive decisions. In a study comparing brain activity of sober alcoholics and non-addicted people making financial decisions, the group of sober alcoholics showed significantly more "impulsive" neural activity.
The researchers also discovered that a specific gene mutation boosted activity in these brain regions when people made impulsive choices. The mutation was already known to reduce brain levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. The newly found link involving the gene, impulsive behavior and brain activity suggests that raising dopamine levels may be an effective treatment for addiction, the scientists say.
Lead scientist is Charlotte Boettiger, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Boettiger led the research as a scientist at UCSF's Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center. Senior author is Howard Fields, MD, PhD, a UCSF professor of neurology and an investigator in the Gallo Center.
"Our data suggest there may be a cognitive difference in people with addictions," Boettiger said. "Their brains may not fully process the long-term consequences of their choices. They may compute information less efficiently."Science Daily