New Method Uncovers How Internal States Influence the Living Brain to Change Behavior

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photo of woman researcher using a pipette

In an innovative NIDA-funded study, published in Cell, scientists introduced a modified dopamine receptor gene into the brain of a living vinegar fly, such that when dopamine bound to this receptor, a messenger molecule was released, traveled to the nucleus, and activated a fluorescent reporter gene that could be easily visualized. The investigators successfully used the technique to link flies’ increased behavioral sensitivity to sugar when hungry to increased stimulation of a specific dopamine receptor in a feeding-related circuit. This powerful new technique may have general applicability for elucidating the neurobiology of behavioral changes related to a broad range of internal states, including hunger, stress, and drug craving.

Cell, Volume 148, Issue 3, 583-595, 3 February 2012   Abstract Available