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School of Psychology Ti-Fei Yuan's group finds: heroin addiction impairs human cortex plasticity

With the coming of International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (June 26), new progress has been made in addiction and brain plasticity by Ti-Fei Yuan ’s research group at School of Psychology, Nanjing Normal University. They observed the plasticity of heroin addict's motor cortex by employing both Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and Motor Evoked Potential (MEP). The findings, which are the first exploration to addict's cerebral cortex plasticity in the world, are published in Biological Psychiatry, the top journal in the field of psychiatry edited by Yale University (impact factor 11.212).

The research was conducted by School of Psychology, Rehabilitation Medicine Center of The First Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing Medical University, Dalianshan Detoxification Center at Nanjing and The Rehabilitation College of Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The corresponding author is Prof. Ti-Fei Yuan at School of Psychology. The first and correspondence author’s work unit is Nanjing Normal University.

In this research, the researchers first recruited the heroin addicts with strict standards—those heroin-only ones, who have not tried any other new type of drugs. They had continuously taken heroin for at least 3 years. They always took large dosage of heroin and they had high reliance on it. They never received any pharmacological treatment for heroin addiction, and had a desire of relapse and a physical craving for heroin.

During the magnetic stimulation on an addict's motor cortex, the researchers recorded related MEPs from the abductor muscle of thumb. When 10Hz integrated Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (iTMS) is applied, there would be a stronger plasticity in the excitability of motor cortex and in related neural connections, while a much lower one in heroin addict's (shown in the picture below).

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Article link: doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.06.013

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