Monthly Publication Highlights the Role of Environmental Enrichment During Adolescence on Brain Pathways Affecting Drug Abuse

June 04, 2015

An interesting, multidisciplinary analysis of how environmental factors can contribute to addictive behavior is the UK College of Pharmacy Research Publication Highlight for April 2015. The article was published in Brain Research and is entitled, “Effect of environmental enrichment on dopamine and serotonin transporters and glutamate neurotransmission in medial prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex.”

The project was a collaborative effort between the Colleges of Pharmacy and Arts and Sciences and was directed by Linda Dwoskin, Professor of Pharmaceutical Science, and Michael Bardo, Professor of Psychology. Mahesh Darna in Pharmaceutical Sciences serves as first author on the manuscript and Cassandra Gipson and Joshua Beckman in Psychology also contributed to the work.

A number of genetic and environmental factors are thought to contribute to vulnerability to addiction, including the way our brains respond to a variety of stimuli that we perceive as pleasurable or rewarding. Work in this field indicates that environmental enrichment, particularly during adolescence, decreases self-administration of drugs in animal models of drug abuse. The investigators that led the present study asked whether environmental enrichment would affect the way in which our brains release and take-up neurotransmitters, the chemical signals our brains use to transmit information, in regions of the brain that regulate our sense of pleasure and reward. Their findings indicate that providing a novel and ever-changing environment during adolescence produced long-term changes in the rates at which certain neurotransmitters are released and taken-up in these regions. These findings potentially provide a biological mechanism by which the environment alters the biology of the brain and may influence susceptibility to addiction.

“The outcomes of this study reveal the power of team science. In this case, pharmacologists and psychologists worked together to link behavioral studies to the underlying molecular mechanisms that may affect disorders of addiction,” said Greg Graf, Assistant Dean for Translational Research.