Suicides, addicts, rapists… Could they stop being if an implant in their brains controlled their irrepressible bad impulses? Perhaps, suggests a team of scientists from Stanford University (United States) that has managed to reduce by electrodes the outbursts that lead mice to stuff themselves with food.
These researchers have proven that the delta waves of the nucleus accumbens – a group of brain neurons – of rodents oscillate significantly in the moments before they are awarded with food, and have been able to use neurostimulation using electrodes to stop that oscillation that becomes an irresistible urge to feed until burst.
The interesting thing is that in humans similar alterations have been detected in the nucleus accumbens related to the anticipation of the reward, which indicates that, as in animals, the neurostimulation could be used in treatments to control the disordered appetite, and even mental disorders much more serious and dangerous for those who suffer them and for other people.
When the brain clicks
Just before impulsive behavior, the nucleus accumbens sends electrical signals that unleash that uncontrolled act, say the Stanford scientists. This region of the brain is related to pleasure, fear, aggression and addictions, and is part of the brain reward system.
Researchers have discovered that if an electrical impulse is sent to the nucleus accumbens just when this activates that dangerous signal, the impulsive behavior of the mice stops.
If this method could be applied to human beings, a door would open to the control of behavioral disorders in which the reward circuit plays a key role: drug addiction, gambling and sex, disordered eating, attacks of anger and other self-destructive or aggressive behaviors.
Casey Halpern, professor of neurosurgery at Stanford and one of those responsible for the experiment, speculates in statements to the British newspaper The Telegraph about the possible applications of this research published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences: “Imagine that we could predict and prevent suicides, the binge eating disorder or uncontrolled explosions of anger. If there are no neurostimulation devices to control these bad impulses, it is because until now the way in which the brain triggers them has not been identified. But now we have found for the first time a biomarker of compulsive behavior.”