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Their work with a 'rat casino' is providing insight into how gambling addiction develops, and how it might one day be treated. University of British Columbia When the scientists gave the rats a drug that blocked the action of a specific dopamine receptor that has been linked to addiction, the rats no longer acted like problem gamblers.

The effect was enormous

Building on previous research, the team focused on the dopamine D4 receptor, which has been linked to a variety of behavioural disorders, but never proven useful in treatment. What's more, the researchers were able to correct the behaviour by blocking the action of a specific dopamine receptor, laying the groundwork for possible treatment of gambling addiction in humans.

In research published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, scientists at UBC discovered rats behaved like problem gamblers when sound and light cues were added to a "rat casino" model. January 20,University of British Columbia Adding flashing lights and music to gambling encourages risky decision-making—even if you're a rat.

Compulsive gambling affects between three and five percent of North Americans, according to recent statistics.

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This common cognitive bias is considered an important factor in the development of pathological gambling problems. The findings have been published in Biological Psychiatry journal. The rats, who gambled for sugary treats, normally learn how to avoid the risky options.

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Interestingly, the rats showed a tendency towards choosing the cash-out lever when two lights near-miss illuminated, suggesting that rats, like people, are susceptible to the near-miss effect. Jeff Kubina, Wikimedia Commons With the help of a rat casino, University of British Columbia brain researchers have successfully reduced behaviours in rats that are commonly associated with compulsive gambling in humans.

But that all changed when the scientists added flashing lights and sounds.

The Magazine of the University of British Columbia

In the month study, a cohort of 32 laboratory rats responded to a series of three flashing lights before choosing between two levers. But the dopamine blockers had minimal effect on rats who gambled without the flashing lights and sound cues.

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The D4 blocker drug used in the study has previously been tested on humans in attempts to treat behaviour disorders like schizophrenia but appeared to have no effect. While findings suggest that blocking the D4 dopamine receptor may help to reduce pathological gambling behaviours in humans, the researchers note that further research is needed before the drugs can be considered a viable pharmaceutical treatment for pathological gambling in humans.

Catharine Winstanley, focuses on understanding the biological mechanisms of functions such as impulse control and gambling, leading to new and improved treatments for disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and drug addiction. The fact that slot machines tend to have a relatively high proportion of near-misses in comparison to other gambling games may be the reason that slot machines are such a particularly addictive form of gambling.

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. Paul Cocker and Prof.

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One combination of lights all lights illuminated signaled a win and seven combinations zero, one or two lights signaled a loss. The study found that rats treated with a dopamine D4 receptor-blocking medication exhibited reduced levels of behaviours associated with problem gambling.

But when we ran the study, the effect was enormous," said Catharine Winstanley, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.