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I am driven to find the switch that turns off addiction

An estimated 80-90 percent of people recovering from addiction relapse within a year. Mark Thomas’s work points to brain stimulation as a preventive strategy.

Targeting brain areas to prevent drug relapse

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Mark Thomas

“We are trying to understand what the neural signature for relapse is.”

Mark Thomas, Associate Professor

Mark Thomas is committed to finding a neural “switch” that can turn off relapse behavior. If the switch could be thrown and the signal for relapse interrupted, it would help people recovering from addiction stay abstinent.

By stimulating neurons in the brain’s “cognitive control” center (the prefrontal cortex), which connects to the brain’s “reward center,” Thomas was able to keep opioid-addicted mice from engaging in drug-seeking behavior for several hours. His work shows that relapse doesn’t just happen; specific neurons are involved and may be controllable, like a switch.

Neural stimulation inhibits relapse

illustration of pain response in brain of mouse

By stimulating a certain neural pathway, researchers can prevent relapse behavior in mice. Cells in the pathway stay activated for a long time. This could lead to treatments to prevent relapse in humans.

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“Experience lays traces on the brain that can last for a lifetime.” Mark Thomas, Associate Professor