Confocal microscopy image of a tissue sample showing brain cells in the external globus pallidus (red) that are important for suppressing addictive-like behaviors. Courtesy of Matthew Baker, Ph.D.
As a graduate student conducting basic science research, Matthew Baker, Ph.D., focused over the last few years on one mysterious process of the brain — specifically, what takes place in cases of addiction. His mentor, molecular pharmacologist Doo-Sup Choi, Ph.D., leads a research team that aims to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms of drug and alcohol addiction with the goal of identifying treatments.
Three years ago, Dr. Baker's graduate thesis project took a turn when he read an article in a medical journal describing an approach that could zero in on and delete a specific neural circuit. His idea was to apply the approach to the region of the brain known as the external globus pallidus, or GPe, which relays information between two brain regions. The GPe was known to be active in motor function but had only recently been linked to the process of how the brain chooses an action to seek a reward or addictive drug.
He and Seungwoo Kang, Ph.D., a research associate who also was working in Dr. Choi's lab, conducted experiments and identified a neural circuit from the GPe that extended to a specific area of the dorsal striatum, a brain region associated with addiction. With that information, Dr. Baker and Dr. Choi began to formulate a plan to investigate whether the circuit played a role in addictive behavior.
"It was a courageous idea," says Dr. Choi. "Not many people had tried this approach of deleting a circuit, and not in this area. We agreed to go there."
Read the rest of the article on the Discovery's Edge blog.
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