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Rats' gambling problems might be cured with drugs

With the help of a rat casino, University of British Columbia brain researchers say they have successfully reduced behaviors in rats that are commonly associated with compulsive gambling in humans, a press release from the university says.

 "The study, which featured the first successful modeling of slot machine-style gambling with rats in North America, is the first to show that problem gambling behaviours can be treated with drugs that block dopamine D4 receptors. The findings have been published in Biological Psychiatry journal," the release says.

 The release said more work is needed, but the findings offer new hope for the treatment of gambling addiction, according to Paul Cocker, lead author of the study and a PhD student in UBC’s Dept. of Psychology. He said the study sheds important new light on the brain processes involved with gambling and gambling addictions.

Rats gambled for sugar pellets using a slot machine-style device that featured three flashing lights and two levers they could push with their paws. The rats exhibited several behaviors associated with problem gambling such as the tendency to treat “near misses” similar to wins.

The study was done by Paul Cocker and Prof. Catharine Winstanley (UBC Dept. of Psychology), Bernard Le Foll (University of Toronto, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) and Robert D. Rogers (Bangor University). The study, A Selective Role for Dopamine D4 Receptors in Modulating Reward Expectancy in a Rodent Slot Machine Task.


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