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Smoke Signals in a New Light

Optogenetic interventions reveal an important role of dorsomedial prefrontal cortex neurons in encoding nicotine-cue associations.

Nicotine addiction through smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable disease worldwide. A major challenge encountered by those who attempt to quit smoking is the high likelihood of relapse, often driven by nicotine associated cues. These cues gain motivational properties of their own when neutral cues (e.g., the sight of a cigarette lighter) are repeatedly paired with nicotine use and can come to elicit craving and precipitate relapse. This raises the possibility that, if the mechanisms for how the brain encodes these cue associations were understood, treatment could directly target such mechanisms as a means of reducing relapse. In a recent study published in Neuropsychopharmacology, Roeland Struik and Nathan Marchant conducted a series of experiments to investigate the role of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in encoding nicotine-cue associations in rats. They took advantage of the high time-resolution of optogenetic intervention by decreasing or increasing the activity of neurons in the dorsal and ventral mPFC only during 5-s nicotine cue presentations. They found strong evidence that a population of neurons within the dorsal mPFC is involved in encoding the incentive value of nicotine-associated cues.

Paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41386-019-0449-x.pdf

Research Highlight https://www.nature.com/articles/s41386-019-0469-6.pdf