Scientists have found out which connections are broken in the brain of heroin and cocaine addicts

(ORDO NEWS) — By examining the brains of people addicted to cocaine and heroin, scientists have discovered new structural features.

In patients, the connection between the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in executive function, and habenula, a part of the brain that plays a key role in the reward system, was disrupted.

The earlier a person began to use substances, the more pronounced were the disturbances in his brain.

Employees of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (USA) have shown that the white matter tracts that connect different parts of the brain are destroyed during cocaine or heroin addiction.

Particularly affected is the tract that links the prefrontal cortex, which regulates complex cognitive and social behavior, decision making, and the coordination of thoughts and actions, as well as habenula, a tiny area of ​​the brain that plays a critical role in reward and reward-related learning.

The habenula, or “leash,” is located in the epithalamus and has already been studied in rodent models of cocaine addiction.

Then it was shown that in animals the transmission of signals from the prefrontal cortex to the habenula is disturbed and this becomes the cause of withdrawal behavior.

Now scientists have used diffusion magnetic resonance imaging, or MR tractography, to examine people’s brains.

This method makes it possible to trace the diffusion of water molecules along the myelin sheaths of neurons and obtain information about the connections between different parts of the brain and the integrity of the pathways.

Scientists have identified numerous microstructural differences between the brains of addicted and healthy people.

In particular, in drug addicts, the connectivity decreased and the orientation of the white matter fibers in the pathways was disturbed.

Moreover, such anomalies were present even in those who quit drugs after a long period of use.

In addition, violations did not differ between cocaine and heroin users. However, they were more pronounced in people who started using at an earlier age.

The results of the work demonstrated a new, previously unexplored chain in the pathophysiology of drug addiction in humans.

Scientists hope that the obtained data will help to develop new methods of therapy and identification of risk factors.

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