Is there such a thing as an “addiction switch?” Recent scientific studies have identified DeltaFosB (ΔFosB) as a driving factor for addiction in the brain. This “molecular mechanism” is created in the brain by prolonged exposure to addictive drugs or compulsive behaviors. Over time, ΔFosB can cause addictions to become stronger and ultimately change brain chemistry. It can also cause one to seek out natural rewards other than drugs (exercise, food, sex, etc.)
What is ΔFosB?
DeltaFosB is known as a transcription factor. It accumulates primarily in the dorsal striatum, which is the brain regions important for addiction. ΔFosB accumulates in neurons in the brain due to many compulsive behaviors. The brain is then rewarded by these behaviors by dopamine. Simply defined, ΔFosB builds up in neurons in the brain, and since ΔFosB is so stable, it can alter gene expression and can stay in place long after drug abuse is stopped. As addiction progresses the presence of ΔFosB can remain longer and longer. This makes a physiological change in brain chemistry that strengthens addiction.
Studies on Mice
There have several scientific studies done on ΔFosB’s role in addiction, mostly on mice. In a study done by the Icahn School of Medicine, ΔFosB was introduced to inducible transgenic mice. It was found that introduction of ΔFosB increases an animal’s sensitivity to the rewarding effects of drug-abuse. It may also increase incentive motivation or a drive for drugs. Also, ΔFosB increases an animal’s drive for natural rewards. ΔFosB then functions as a sustained molecular switch that first helps initiate then maintains a state of addiction for a relatively long period of time.
These ΔFosB responses are interesting because they provide a molecular mechanism by which drugs of abuse, natural rewards, and stress can induce long-lasting changes in gene expression. That means that ΔFosB can increase neural pathways in the brain that increase addiction.
Addiction studies always seek to find out the physical as well as the behavioral roots of addiction. Understanding how ΔFosB increases addiction can help understand its treatment and prevention.
If you or a loved one struggle with addiction, help is available. Rock Recovery Center in West Palm Beach, Florida can help with advice on next steps. Call our 24-hour helpline or chat live with us now.