|Drinking alcohol affects the mood, movements, and the emotions of a person and now scientists are now looking at a possible reversion of the effects of alcohol / Photo by: William Perugini via 123rf|
Drinking alcohol has been proven to have effects on the mood, thoughts, and behavior of a person. However, why is it that there are some people who develop alcohol dependence while some people do not? Neuroscience research has helped scientists gain a better understanding of how alcohol changes the brain and how these changes also influence a person's behavior in an extended period of time.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are over 15.4 million adults in the United States alone who suffer from alcohol dependency. Based on the findings of the Scripps Research Institute, the transition from casual drinking to dependent drinking happens alongside changes to brain signals. These brain signals are responsible for the alcohol cravings that make it difficult for some people to control their alcohol intake.
For the brain to function normally, it has to maintain a careful balance of chemicals or neurotransmitters. These chemicals in the brain are delicate and are involved in the communication systems that regulate body function and behavior. Alcohol intoxication can upset the balance that may lead to drowsiness, lack of coordination, and euphoria.
The subset of neurons called the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) neurons were tested by researchers in alcohol-addicted rat subjects. It was found out that the CRF neurons make up 80 percent of the neuronal "ensemble", which is made up of interlocking cells in the amygdala.
|Scientists tested the corticotropin-releasing factor neuron and found out that there are 80 percent of them that forms an "ensemble" by interlocking cells in the amygdala / Photo by: ssilver via 123rf|
New Research on Reversing Alcohol Cravings
Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute were able to reverse the alcohol cravings in rats with the use of laser treatment.
In the study, the rats were implanted with optic fibers. Light was shone on the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) neurons to inactivate them.
The scientists must initially make the rats alcohol-dependent. This was done by establishing a baseline on the amount of alcohol required to make the subject addicted to alcohol. After that, the researchers increased the consumption of the rats to make them alcohol-dependent.
When the rats experienced withdrawal symptoms, they offered more alcohol again and the rats drank more than before.
After this, the scientists tried to turn on the lasers to inactivate the CRF neurons. Surprisingly enough, the rats returned to the original non-alcohol dependent mode. Their craving to drink alcohol was gone. There is also lesser withdrawal symptoms such as shaking and abnormal gait.
The effect can even be reversed. When the lasers are turned off, the rats return to being alcohol-dependent. This just reveals that there are wirings in the brain that can cause a specific reaction or destructive behavior. The next step will require translating the rat experiment to fit human behavior and find the CRF neurons responsible for excessive drinking.
|Scientists found a way to reverse the alcohol effect and it was only by a laser / Photo by: Sergey Tolmachyov via 123rf|
The first author of the study, Giordano de Guglielmo, PhD, said that the study allowed them to characterize, target, and manipulate the neurons that are responsible for excessive alcohol intake. "This was a team effort, and while we used challenging techniques, working with experts in the field and with the right tools, made everything easier and enjoyable," he added.
Olivier George, PhD, an associate professor at Scripps Research and senior author of the new study, published March 18, 2019 in the journal Nature Communications, expressed his excitement on the result. "This discovery is exciting -- it means we have another piece of the puzzle to explain the neural mechanism driving alcohol consumption."
The laser treatment may have been successful in the experiment with rats. However, there is still a lot to be done before this can be ready for human use. George believes that identifying the neurons responsible for alcohol dependence can open a whole new perspective for developing drug therapies and even gene therapies. He further added that compounds needed must be specific to the neuronal circuitry.
George and his colleagues have been searching for the brain cells responsible for the need to drink in alcohol-dependent rats. In 2016, they have found a possible source, which is the neuronal ensemble. This finding has made a major progress in mapping the brain but the identity of the neurons still needs to be identified further.
What neuroscience has always shown is that there are pathways of addiction in the brain. By further studies and advanced techniques such as imaging methods and animal studies, researchers can now know more about how alcohol interacts with the human brain and how it communicates in the brains of different types of people. New technology can also help identify the changes that happen in the brain when there is excessive drinking, or how alcohol adversely affects the chemical balance of the brain. The information gathered can help scientists understand how and why alcoholism develops in a person and how they can ultimately find an effective means to target alcohol abuse and dependence.