Researchers Find Mechanism That Controls Desire for Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol Consumption

Researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) and the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) Portland Health Care System have found a mechanism that can curb the need to consume alcohol. In tests performed on animals, the desire for alcohol consumption shrank from three to four units to one to two units in a two-hour period.

The part of the brain where this mechanism was found is called the cerebellum; specifically, it was detected in neurons called granule cells. The protein receptor that’s found in the cells is called GABAA. When this protein is activated, it suppresses the firing of neurons and causes the swaying, slurring, and loss of inhibition that’s characteristic of drunkenness. The knowledge of GABAA function is used to treat epilepsy. This is done by using a drug called benzodiazepine to purposely activate GABAA.

What researchers did in this study was inject mice classified as binge drinkers with a drug called THIP. What THIP does is recreate the effect alcohol has on mice that are more sensitive to alcohol and cannot consume large amounts. This caused the binge-drinking mice to consume less.

Researchers are hopeful this study will produce improved drug therapies that “deter excessive alcohol consumption, and potentially [come] with fewer side effects than other existing targets and brain circuits.” This current research was based on previous studies linking genes that impact ethanol consumption and the response of granule cell GABAA receptors to ethanol.

Results from this study were published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Washington State University assistant professor David Rossi and his colleagues led the study, the bulk of which was performed at OHSU. They believe the conclusions will help those who are genetically predisposed to abuse alcohol.

Funding for the study came from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the American Heart Association, and the VA Portland Health Care System.

Sorensen, E., “Targeted Drug Makes Alcohol Guzzling Mouse a Teetotaler,” Washington State University web site, August 30, 2016;