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Scientists Reverse Alcohol Dependence in Animals

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By    |   Wednesday, 07 Sep 2016 11:55 AM

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) may have discovered a way to eliminate the urge to drink.


"We can completely reverse alcohol dependence by targeting a network of neurons," said study leader Olivier George.


The new research, which was published in The Journal of Neuroscience, broadened previous research which showed that drinking alcohol frequently can activate specific groups of neurons.


The more a person drinks, the more they reinforce activity in the neuronal "circuit," which spurs further alcohol use and addiction. It's as if the brain creates a special path between alcohol and reward.


The researchers explored the possibility that there could be a way to influence only the select neurons that form these circuits. In both humans and rats, the neurons make up about five percent of the neurons in the brain's central amygdala.


The rats were designed to be dependent on alcohol, and expressed a special protein that could distinguish exactly which neurons in the brain were activated by alcohol. The rats were then injected with a compound that could specifically target alcohol-linked neurons and inactivate them.


George said he was surprised to see that the compulsion to drink alcohol was completely eliminated in the rats, a change that lasted as long as the rats were monitored.


"We've never seen an effect that strong that has lasted for several weeks," George said. "I wasn't sure if I believed it."


The researchers went on to run the experiment a second and then a third time. Each time, the rats ceased drinking compulsively.


"It's like they forgot they were dependent," said George.


In addition, the rats suffered no negative physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as shaking.


The study also shed light on differences in the brain between more casual binge drinking and addictive consumption. In rat models of non-dependent drinking, switching off the alcohol-linked neurons had little effect on future drinking, suggesting the path in the brain from alcohol to reward was not established yet.


The next step will be for the researchers to transfer their discoveries to humans.


More than 3 million Americans are addicted to alcohol, which is an inability to control drinking.


Although there is no cure, alcoholics can be helped by detoxification programs and medications that reduce the compulsion to drink.


Many high-profile celebrities have had bouts with the bottle. The most recent is ABC news personality Elizabeth Vargas, who entered rehab last fall and is returning to work.


Vargas admitted to ABC news that it's still difficult to avoid alcohol, but she has a good support system.


"I'm part of AA," she told ABC news, referring to the group Alcoholics Anonymous. "I have a sponsor. I have great, great friends who I love and who love me."

 

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Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) may have discovered a way to eliminate the urge to drink. We can completely reverse alcohol dependence by targeting a network of neurons, said study leader Olivier George. The new research, which was published in The...
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Wednesday, 07 Sep 2016 11:55 AM
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