New research shows that increasing the amount of a single brain protein can reduce the urge to drink too much alcohol. It not only cut down on drinking but also prevented relapses—in animal studies. Other pleasure-seeking urges were not affected. And there seem to be no side effects. Of course, there’s a slight hitch in using the treatment: it’s directly injected into the brain because of the notorious blood-brain barrier. So we need to find a medicine that will stimulate the brain to produce the protein itself. I suggest that we start by looking at the B-complex vitamins, since they are associated at least mildly with reduced cravings for alcohol.
The research by scientists at the UCSF-affiliated Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center builds on their earlier work. In 2005, they reported the first hints that increased levels of this brain protein, known as GDNF, cut down alcohol consumption. The new study established how quickly the effect kicks in, and shows for the first time that the chemical blocks relapse and does not interfere with normal cravings. The research also pinpointed the brain site where GDNF acts to control drinking.
“Alcoholism is a devastating and costly psychiatric disease with enormous socioeconomic impact,” said Dorit Ron, PhD, senior author on the paper and principal investigator at the Gallo Center. “There is a tremendous need for therapies to treat alcohol abuse.”
“Unfortunately, only three drugs are currently approved to treat excessive drinking, and all have serious limitations. Our findings open the door to a promising new strategy to combat alcohol abuse, addiction and especially relapse.” Ron is also associate professor of neurology at UCSF.
GDNF, or glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor, is already a focus of strong interest for treating Parkinson’s disease. A new orally-delivered, experimental drug has been shown to raise brain GDNF levels in rats, suggesting its promise against Parkinson’s. Research by Ron and her colleagues suggests such a drug might also treat alcoholism….
The Gallo Center scientists set out to test the actions of GDNF in a brain site known as the Ventral Tegmental Area, or VTA, a region of the brain thought to be strongly involved in drug-seeking behavior. The first part of the study was designed to model both human social and excessive drinking. Researchers first trained rats to seek alcohol for two months. GDNF was then injected into the VTA brain region, and their motivation to drink in both models dropped significantly within as little as 10 minutes. The effect lasted at least three hours, the scientists reported.
University of California – San Francisco (2008, June 12). Excessive Drinking And Relapse Rapidly Cut In New Approach. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 13, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2008/06/080609170806.htm