Addiction: Insights from Parkinson's disease

Feb 25, 2009

A new comprehensive review by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), McGill University and the University of Cambridge, England provides vital insights into the neurological basis of addiction by investigating Parkinson's disease patients, who in some instances develop various addictions when undergoing medical treatment. The review, published in this week's (February 25) issue of the scientific journal Neuron, illustrates that persistently elevated levels of dopamine in the brain promote the development and maintenance of addictive behaviours.

Addiction is a complex health and societal problem that can destroy lives and damage communities. Brain imaging studies have shown that addiction severely alters brain areas critical to decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control. In order to learn how to control or manage the disorder, it is necessary to understand the underlying biological mechanisms. Researchers have turned to Parkinson's disease to study addiction, successfully using one disease to learn about another. Although seemingly very different, dopamine plays a role in both disorders and some of the same systems in the brain are affected. Parksinson's disease is often thought as just affecting movement but, it also consists of cognitive, behavioural and mood symptoms, which are now being recognized as a major source of disability.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger in the brain that is involved in brain processes that control movement, emotional response and the ability to experience pleasure, reward and pain. Parkinson's patients lack dopamine and are often treated with dopamine agonists, medication that mimics dopamine action.

"In some instances Parkinson's disease (PD) patients become addicted to their own medication, or develop behavioural addictions such as pathological gambling, compulsive shopping or hypersexuality," says Dr. Alain Dagher, neurologist at the MNI and co-author of the review.

"This is surprising because PD patients typically have a very low incidence of drug abuse and display a personality type that is the opposite of the typical addictive personality. These rare, addictive syndromes, which appear to result from excessive dopaminergic treatment, illustrate the link between dopamine, personality and addiction."

PD patients treated with dopamine agonists had an incidence of pathological gambling as high as 8% compared to less than 1% in the general population. In PD patients who develop addictive disorders, the problems started soon after starting dopaminergic therapy and stopped after treatment was discontinued. It was found that adjusting the dosage and combination of medication resolved the addictive symptoms, while maintaining the same motor benefit.

The phenomenon of addiction induced by dopamine medications can also tell us something about vulnerability to addiction in the general population. Not everyone is equally vulnerable, and it now appears that the propensity to become addicted is in part hereditary. Many of the genes implicated in addiction appear to affect brain levels of dopamine.

Studies show that that dopamine acts in an area of the brain known as the ventral striatum, which receives input from other areas such as the hippocampus and amygdala. It may be through this region that dopamine promotes addictive behaviours.

Source: McGill University

Explore further: Commuter with measles also dined at Bay Area restaurant

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Canada looks east-west to ship oil after Keystone veto

2 hours ago

After US President Barack Obama vetoed a bill to expedite construction of the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday, petroleum producers are expected to turn to Canadian routes to ship oil internationally, but hurdles ...

Internet access limited in developing world

2 hours ago

Most people in the developing world do not use the Internet, with access limited by high costs, poor availability and a lack of relevant content, a Facebook report said Tuesday.

Manhattan Project physicist Ralph Nobles dies at 94

3 hours ago

(AP)—Ralph Nobles, a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and later led efforts to save thousands of acres of San Francisco Bay wetlands from development, died following complications of pneumonia, according ...

In Japan, robot dogs are for life - and death

3 hours ago

Incense smoke wafts through the cold air of the centuries-old Buddhist temple as a priest chants a sutra, praying for the peaceful transition of the souls of the departed.

US sees little severe weather so far in 2015

3 hours ago

(AP)—While a big chunk of the nation deals with snow and ice, the U.S. is poised to end January and February with the fewest bouts of severe weather in decades.

Recommended for you

Home walking program improves erectile function after MI

13 hours ago

(HealthDay)—For men with recent acute myocardial infarction, a home-based walking program is associated with a reduction in reported erectile dysfunction (ED), according to a study published in the March ...

Trapping the Ebola virus in transit

14 hours ago

The deadly Ebola virus makes use of host mechanisms – including a specific type of membrane-bound calcium channel – to gain entry into the cell cytoplasm. LMU researchers now show that blocking this channel ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.