July 31, 2012
Drug Boosts Frontal Cortex Dopamine, Cuts Impulsiveness

Drugs to boost brain dopamine might help the excessively compulsive to control themselves.

Raising levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the frontal cortex of the brain significantly decreased impulsivity in healthy adults, in a study conducted by researchers at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco.

"Impulsivity is a risk factor for addiction to many substances, and it has been suggested that people with lower dopamine levels in the frontal cortex tend to be more impulsive," said lead author Andrew Kayser, PhD, an investigator at Gallo and an assistant professor of neurology at UCSF. "We wanted to see if we could decrease impulsivity by raising dopamine, and it seems as if we can."

The study was published on July 4 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

In a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study, 23 adult research participants were given either tolcapone, a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that inhibits a dopamine-degrading enzyme, or a placebo. The researchers then gave the participants a task that measured impulsivity, asking them to make a hypothetical choice between receiving a smaller amount of money immediately ("smaller sooner") or a larger amount at a later time ("larger later"). Each participant was tested twice, once with tolcapone and once with placebo.

I am intrigued by the idea of being able to biochemically one's mood and behavioral tendencies with great precision. Imagine being able to put yourself into one mental state when doing solitary work and another mental state when you know you are going to spend a lot of time communicating in business meetings. The ability to shift between introversion and extraversion strikes me as useful. So does the ability to shift one's time horizon. Go for long term rewards when studying or working on a design that takes months to implement. Go for shorter term rewards and turn up the extraversion when, say, doing sales pitches.

Another possibility (really, an inevitability): gene therapies to alter one's personality and behavior. If a drug that blocks an enzyme can boost brain dopamine and alter behavior then so a gene therapy that flips genetic switches to lower the expression of that same enzyme. A gene therapy can have more lasting impact as it can remain in cells for a long time. Imagine the mischief such gene therapies would make possible. For example, manage to get a gene therapy into top officials of a nation and suddenly their attitudes could soften toward an enemy national.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 July 31 10:41 PM  Brain Emotion Alteration

PacRim Jim said at August 1, 2012 12:49 AM:

Cuts impulsiveness?
Casino money is finding its way to politicians even now, to outlaw dopamine level tampering.

mrm27 said at August 1, 2012 6:07 AM:

Didn't the Unabomber write about the coming genetic modifications and the Pandora's box that it would make? Has a scientist ever stopped and said to himself, "Should I do this?"

Russ said at August 1, 2012 6:16 AM:

Or to treat those with low-impulse-control, aka, huge swaths of our convict population.

Abelard Lindsey said at August 1, 2012 8:17 AM:

The unabomber is a mentally deranged individual who killed and maimed others for his sick, twisted ideology. I would not quote him on anything.

Engineer-Poet said at August 1, 2012 11:36 AM:

No kidding, Russ.

Ad-hominem fallacy, Abelard.

Abelard Lindsey said at August 1, 2012 3:31 PM:

I stand by my comment about unabomber. Quoting the unabomber on any particular subject is no different than quoting someone like Ted Bundy or Gary Ridgeway. They are/were all serial killers, nothing more

Abelard Lindsey said at August 1, 2012 3:32 PM:

I stand by my comment about unabomber. Quoting the unabomber on any particular subject is no different than quoting someone like Ted Bundy or Gary Ridgeway. They are/were all serial killers, nothing more

Shashi Kiran said at August 1, 2012 6:18 PM:

"They are/were all serial killers, nothing more"

This is just plain wrong. All those individuals have almost nothing in common, especially when it comes to philosophies and ideas.

Ad Hominem fallacy is not good.

Imagine if commenters on here started saying, "Abelard Lindsey used Ad-hominem twice", none of his views therefore count or are worth quoting because he is just another Ad-hominemer, nothing more.

not anon or anonymous said at August 1, 2012 7:59 PM:

Near future: UAVs fly overhead dispensing SOMA.

Sal said at August 2, 2012 2:35 AM:

Hi Satan here. We finally got this thing called the 'internet' down here. nice to meet you.

solaris said at August 2, 2012 1:25 PM:

>" For example, manage to get a gene therapy into top officials of a nation and suddenly their attitudes could soften toward an enemy national."

Or the state can use gene therapy to make its people more obsequious and obedient. Why, the possibilities are endless!

Capn Dan said at August 2, 2012 1:40 PM:

I spend a fair amount of time working with drug and alcohol addicts. This would be very useful in recovery.

ThomasD said at August 2, 2012 1:41 PM:

We've been chemically altering our brains to suit our needs and desires for millenia, alcohol as a social lubricant, nicotine for focus, coca for hard labor at altitude, the list goes on.

While this appears a tad more refined, our limited knowledge of neurochemistry and neurophysiology coupled with a healthy dose of skepticism says we are still operating at the level of monkeywrenching.


If we were discussing the merits of flossing bringing up the Unabomber's other views would be ad hominem. His statements, and acts, regarding the dangers of technology are anything but irrelevant to the matter at hand. To discuss his views on technology without at least noting where those beliefs led him is to ignore the obvious.

Abelard Lindsey said at August 2, 2012 1:56 PM:

Shashi Kiran,

Let me make this as simple as possible so that you can understand.

The unabomber is a dellusional psychopath and serial killer, plain and simple. His ranting and raving is of no morwe merit than that of, say, Ted Bundy or any other serial killer.They are meerly the rantings and ravings of a delusional madman. The groupies who flock around the unabomber are no different than those who flocked around Ted Bundy (yes, he did have groupies following his arrest in Florida in 1979).

There is not much more I or anyone else can say on this topic.

Sean said at August 2, 2012 1:57 PM:

does the show FireFly and the movie Serenity ring a bell? anyone? I aim to misbehave.

Jay Manifold said at August 2, 2012 2:39 PM:

Gotta side with Abelard Lindsey on this one, especially since the Unabomber evidently didn’t “stop and say to himself, ‘Should I do this?’”
To return to the topic of the post, I don’t think the gene-therapy idea would work quickly enough for military purposes, but the notion of general improvement in impulse control, and particularly in time preference, is nicely illuminated by Gregory Clark’s “A Farewell to Alms.” There seems to have been significant and strongly inheritable changes in such factors between about 1200 and 1600 in what is now the UK. What might be the effects of implementing such a therapy in populations of high-time-preference individuals? – the trick, of course, being to obtain informed consent, or yeah, we’re in “Firefly” territory.
(Forgive the link if necessary … it’s not exactly a shameless plug because I don’t maintain the blog any more, but a while back I had a “contest contest” in which one of the entries was “[a] treatment or combination of treatments that can raise standard IQ test scores by at least fifteen points (one standard deviation) in at least one fifth of randomly selected adult subjects without major side effects.”

m00tpoint said at August 2, 2012 2:48 PM:

"Ad-hominem fallacy, Abelard."

Not true. This is not an ad hominem fallacy.

The original comment quoting the unabomber is an argumentum ad verecundiam (argument [by appeal] to authority). The strength of such an argument depends on the authority being an expert regarding the topic -- in this case, ethics or morality. Abelard, correctly in my view, points out that citing the Unabomber as an authority about any moral or ethical question is a really, really poor argument. The Unabomber is a mass murderer, and is therefore completely unsuited as an authority about the moral or ethical dimensions of just about anything.


htom said at August 2, 2012 2:59 PM:

Potential ADHD medication. For decades I've said that ADD stands for Anything Delivering Dopamine.

ThatGuy said at August 2, 2012 3:04 PM:

m00tpoint: +1

JM Hanes said at August 2, 2012 3:30 PM:

Tolcapone may be a new, more targeted drug, but this is not a newly discovered phenomenon. Adderall and similar medications which increase dopamine levels have been used to treat ADD and ADHD for years. Apparently at higher (seriously addictive) dosages, such drugs also pose a long term risk of Dopamine dysregulation syndrome, in which the brain's own capacity to produce dopamines declines.

Russ: Interestingly enough, I believe prison populations include a disproportionately high number of inmates with ADD.

comatus said at August 2, 2012 4:24 PM:

A lot of very notable positive behavior has a strong element of impulsivity in it. You really, really need to think that over. Over, and over, and over again. No, I take that back. You should have already considered this. You wrote...on impulse. Now take your pill.

Miguel said at August 2, 2012 6:55 PM:

Since evolution has slowed to a standstill for humanity (by and large, no more survival of the fittest), changing the genome ourselves is the next step. We will be the first organism to take control of its own evolution.

For better or worse.

Mthson said at August 2, 2012 8:50 PM:

"Evolution has slowed to a standstill for humanity (by and large, no more survival of the fittest)..."

No, we've had "reverse evolution" for the last 100 years.

"Man who fathered 30 kids with 11 different women says he needs a break from child support."

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