When you go on a binge, almost by definition, you know you’re giving your body more than it needs. But for some reason, your brain just says, “To hell with it!” Now, according to John Hopkins University, a team of researchers has not only identified the naughty neurons in the brains of rats that trigger binge behavior, but was also able to suppress the rodents’ desires to binge by targeting these specific neurons using a process known as “optogenetics.”
First, the rats were conditioned to associate a specific sound with pushing a lever to get a drink of sugar water. You could call it a sort of “Pavlov’s rat” training. From there, researchers began monitoring the ventral pallidum in the rats’ brain. “We were surprised to see such a high number of neurons showing such a big increase in activity as soon as the sound played,” said Jocelyn M. Richard, the report’s lead author and a Johns Hopkins University post-doctoral fellow in psychological and brain sciences. In fact, the scientists were able to predict just how quickly the rats would go for the sugar based on how stimulated the neurons were by the sound cue.