Scientists have found a way to reverse alcohol dependency, which may help reduce the urge for compulsive drinking. Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and research lead Olivier George proclaimed, “We can completely reverse alcohol dependence by targeting a network of neurons.”
The recent findings build on previous work which suggested that frequent alcohol use activates a specific group of neurons. The more alcohol a person consumes, the more these neurons are activated—essentially, the study located alcohol-linked neurons. This activation of neurons prompts further consumption of alcohol, so the brain creates a special association between alcohol and rewards.
The researchers found that in human and animal models, these alcohol-linked neurons make up five percent of the neurons in the brain’s amygdala.
In the studies conducted on rats, the researchers uncovered a potential new window into how these circuits form in human brains. The rats were injected with a compound that specifically inactivated alcohol-linked neurons. The researchers found that the rats completely ceased their alcohol dependence, and it lasted for the duration of experiment. George added, “We’ve never seen an effect that strong that has lasted for several weeks. I wasn’t sure if I believed it.”
The tests on the rats were completed numerous times after and each time the same results occurred—the rats stopped consuming alcohol.
On the other hand, the rats were still motivated to consume sugar water, which suggested to the researchers that they only targeted the alcohol-linked neurons. Further discovery showed that the rats were also safeguarded against withdrawal symptoms of alcohol.
Associate Giordano de Guglielmo added, “It is very challenging to target such a small population of neurons in the brain, but this study helps to increase our knowledge of a part of the brain that is still a mystery.”
Next steps are to translate the findings into being workable in humans as a means of reversing excessive alcohol use.
“TSRI Scientists Reverse Alcohol Dependence in Animal Models,” The Scripps Research Institute web site, http://www.scripps.edu/news/press/2016/20160906george.html, last accessed September 8, 2016.