Cocaine abuse remains a prevalent part of the American culture causing 482,188 emergency room visits in 2008 alone. Experts now believe the stimulation of one specific region of the brain may be able to end the addictive tendencies of habitual users.

A team of researchers from the National Institutes of Health, NIH, and the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at UC San Francisco, UCSF, observed the activity in the prefrontal cortex area of the brain related to cocaine addiction.

Compulsive drug taking is defined as an inability to stop using drugs even when the user is fully aware of toll it's taking in their lives. A compulsive need for drugs can lead a cocaine addict down a path to destitute living, rehabilitation, jail and unfortunately in some cases-death.

"When we turn on a laser light in the prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex, the compulsive cocaine seeking is gone," said Antonello Bonci, MD, scientific director of the intramural research program at the NIH's National Institute of Drug Abuse, NIDA.

Lead author of the report Billy Chen and his team studied mice whose brain functions were altered to mirror the conditions of a compulsive drug taker. Using a technique known as optogenetics, researchers were able to implant rhodospins, light-sensitive proteins, into the neurons of a rat's prefrontal cortex.

The employment of the laser light would either turn the nerve cells on, which halted the rat's addictive tendencies, or off, which turned rat's with no signs of addictive tendencies into full blown addicts.

Chen and his colleagues are confident this reaction can be duplicated in humans utilizing transcranial magnetic stimulation, TMS, which, instead of a laser, uses electromagnetic fields to trigger a response in the human brain.

Bonci added that the NIH plans to start clinical trials on TMS where they will use these electromagnetic fields to try and provoke a response in the prefrontal cortex of actual human cocaine abusers.

The study is published in the April 3 edition of the online journal Nature.