Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Brain Circuits that Control Drinking

Credit: KariDesign

Credit: KariDesign

By Philip Ryan

Cutting-edge genetic technology has revealed how the “love hormone” oxytocin protects us from drinking too much, and could lead to a better understanding of the brain circuitry underlying mental illnesses.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Neuroscience is in the midst of a major discovery phase. Scientists, in collaboration with neural engineers, have developed an extensive array of genetically-engineered tools that can probe the brain’s secrets in much finer detail than previously imagined. Examples include optogenetics, which can rapidly switch nerves on or off by shining a laser light; designer receptors that can turn nerves on or off for several hours by injecting a corresponding purpose-built drug; and calcium imaging, which can pinpoint actively firing nerves by illuminating them with bright, fluorescent colours. Scientists are using these techniques to construct a detailed map of the brain circuits underlying our most personal inner-workings: how we think, feel and behave.

I have been exploring one of our most fundamental behaviours – drinking. Using genetic techniques, I have located several nodes in the mouse brain that control water consumption, and traced out their connections to construct a brain circuit map. By mapping the circuits underlying basic functions like drinking, I am developing a framework for investigating more complex behaviours, such as those involved in mental disorders.

Oxytocin Is Involved in Drinking

The “love hormone” oxytocin can increase trust and bonding between people, promote uterine contractions during birth, and induce the milk let-down reflex...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.