Duke University neuroscientists have pinpointed a single type of neuron deep within the brain that serves as a "master controller" of habits [sciencedaily.com].
The team found that habit formation boosts the activity of this influential cell, and that shutting it down with a drug is enough to break habits in sugar-seeking mice. Though rare, this cell exerts its control through a web of connections to more populous cells that are known to drive habitual behavior.
The team trained otherwise healthy mice to receive a tasty treat every time they pressed a lever. Many mice developed a lever-pressing habit, continuing to press the lever even when it no longer dispensed treats, and despite having had an opportunity to eat all the treats they wanted beforehand.
The team then compared the brain activity of mice who had developed a lever-pressing habit with those who hadn't. They focused on an area deep within the brain called the striatum, which contains two sets of neural pathways: a "go" pathway, which incites an action, and a "stop" pathway, which inhibits action.
They found that both the go and stop pathways were stronger in habit-driven mice. Habit formation also shifted the relative timing of the two pathways, making the go pathway fire before the stop.
In the current study, the team wanted to understand the circuitry that coordinates these various long lasting changes in the brain. They had a hunch that a single type of rare cell in the striatum called the fast-spiking interneuron (FSI) might serve as master conductor of the widespread changes in the outgoing neurons' activity.
Beware, it's your fast-spiking interneurons marketers and governments are out to control. Protect them.