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Habit Forming Brain Cells

January 22, 2016

Neuroscientists report on some brain circuits that are habit forming.



Insights into cravings. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Habits are rooted in cells within our brain’s basal ganglia. In the journal Neuron, Duke University neurobiologist Nicole Calakos and her colleagues report on a new technique that let them examine these circuits in mouse brains, and actually see the difference in mice trained to crave sweets.

NICOLE CALAKOS (Duke University):

We could look at these patterns and say, ‘oh, this was a habitual mouse; this was not a habitual mouse.’


The cells control two circuits, one a “go” signal that triggers actions and the other a “stop” signal that inhibits them. Unsurprisingly, mice trained to crave sweets had amplified go circuits but, unexpectedly, also amplified stop circuits opposing them. It’s a puzzle, but Calakos says it seems to be the timing of these signals rather than their amplitude that makes cravings irresistible. The findings could suggest new treatments for addictions. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.