Knowing Your Compulsive Switch
June 17, 2013

Knowing Your Compulsive Switch

For me, checking my e-mail is like Christmas time. Nothing is more exciting than opening an e-mail, finding something to read about, or add something new to my list of things to do. It is a compulsion of mine that I don’t realize unless I really think about it. We all have these compulsive actions, whether it be checking Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, or whatever social media website. In the 20th century, we have many different things that tug on these compulsive strings, and it’s not going to change any time soon as we become a world that is controlled more and more with social media, the internet, and electronic devices. The real question is what is it that causes these compulsive actions and how can we control them better?

It is these two questions that MIT neuroscientists hope to answer. While searching for these answers, they hope to also help provide options for those with Tourette’s syndrome. Tourette’s syndrome is a consistent involuntary action that someone performs and can only cope with it so far. There isn’t very much a person can do right now with Tourette’s because we don’t fully understand what causes Tourette’s or, really, involuntary actions.

Neuroscientists at this point in time are able to pinpoint which area of the brain these compulsive actions come from, but don’t how this area is able to produce this compulsive action; yet. It is exactly this that the MIT neuroscientists hope to figure out.

They have found that mice have a gene called Sapap3. This particular gene controls compulsive and repetitive behavior. MIT neuroscientists tested the usefulness of this gene in decisions and how much of an affect it has on compulsive actions. They used mutated mice, where this Sapap3 gene was turned off, and studied their habits. They did this study by dropping water on the mouse’s nose and play a tone. When they did this, the mouse had the compulsive behavior to clean themself. They did this several times until they played only the tone. When they played only the tone the mice had the same compulsive actions as if they dropped water on their nose. Next they took two sets of mice, one with the gene and one with the gene turned off. After several trials, they found that the mice with the gene that is turned off had a much easier time preventing the compulsive actions than the mice that had the gene turned on. This gave the mice without the gene more control over their actions.

This research gives neuroscientists a better idea of how we can apply or manipulate these genes to help those with obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, or even those that won’t to help control their compulsive behavior. As someone with attention deficit disorder, I’m sure this could be very helpful for students or anyone that wants to help concentrate on their work, because I know that it is not fun working on the same project all day because I get distracted every 5 minutes.

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