Endocannabinoids May Play Key Role in Habit Formation
Daily activities involve frequent transitions between habitual behaviors, such as driving home, and goal-directed behaviors, such as driving to a new destination on unfamiliar roads. An inability to shift between habitual and non-habitual behaviors has been implicated in obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction and other disorders characterized by impaired decision-making. In a new NIAAA-funded study conducted with mice, scientists report that endocannabinoids, natural messengers in the body that are chemically similar to the active compound in marijuana, play an important role in how the brain controls this fundamental process.
“The new findings point to a previously unknown mechanism in the brain that regulates the transition between goal-directed and habitual behaviors,” said Dr. George Koob, NIAAA director. “As we learn more about this mechanism, it could reveal how the brain forms habits and, more specifically, how both endocannabinoids and cannabinoid abuse can influence habitual behavior pathophysiology.”
A report of the findings is now online in the journal Neuron.