Brain's Impulse Center Located

New findings could have a significant impact on the treatment and diagnosis of several conditions marked by impulsive behavior.

Specific changes in the brain mark the improvements in impulse behavior that can achieved with training, according to new research findings from a team at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, that could have a significant impact on both the treatment and diagnosis of several conditions, including alcoholism, ADHD, addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, and gambling.

Publishing their study results in The Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers—led by Scott Hayton, PhD student, Centre for Neuroscience Studies—have pinpointed the brain area that controls impulsive behavior, as well as the mechanisms that affect the learning of impulsive behavior.

“In the classroom, kids often blurt out answers before they raise their hand. With time, they learn to hold their tongue and put up their hand until the teacher calls them. We wanted to know how this type of learning occurs in the brain,” said Hayton. “Our research basically told us where the memory for this type of inhibition is in the brain, and how it is encoded.”

After training rats to control their impulsive responses until presented with a signal, the researchers found that as the rats learned to control their impulses, electrical signals between cells in the frontal lobe grew stronger; this showed them that impulsivity is represented by changes in communication between neurons in a specific brain region.

Principal investigator Professor Cella Olmstead said that the behavioral problems among children with difficulty learning to control a response often continue into adulthood, with impulsivity as a primary feature of many disorders, including those noted above. The identification of the brain region and mechanism that controls impulsivity is a key step in diagnosing and treating those disorders.

“In conditions where learning does not occur properly, it is possible that it is this mechanism that has been impaired,” added co-investigator neuroscience Professor Eric Dumont.

What do these findings mean to you and your patients with impulsive behaviors? Will drugs targeting neuron communications in the frontal lobe help patients with ADHD, addiction, OCD, and other related conditions?