The research could provide some much needed answers on treating alcoholism among humans
Alcoholism is a crippling disease which accounts for more than 80,000 fatalities every year, in the US alone. The major cause for patients relapsing back to their drinking habits, is the extreme withdrawal symptoms that come with alcohol addiction. To find an effective remedy for this problem, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute, San Diego, tried to identify the instigators for alcohol craving in mice brains, while attempting to nullify the effects caused by the particular part of the brain.
Previous research has indicated that there are certain brain signals that are responsible for inducing the craving for alcohol among addicts. To study these signals, firstly the team had to get the mice addicted to alcohol, a feat they achieved quite quickly, as in no time the mice developed a dependency on alcohol. After the mice were addicted, the scientists tried to ascertain the part of the brain responsible for the craving, and once they identified the neuronal ensemble, they deactivated it exposing it to a laser beam.
The neurons responsible for alcoholism, were found in the region of the brain called the center nucleus of the amygdala (CeA). In this area, they found that corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) neurons, constituted a bulk of this part of the brain. The rats were surgically implanted with optical fibers, which directionally exposed CRF neurons to light, rendering them ineffective. Once the neurons were deactivated, the mice almost immediately went back to their pre-addiction state. They displayed no signs of withdrawal either.
While the technology is nowhere near ready to be used among humans, it does ascertain the parts of the brain responsible for alcohol dependency, and plausible method for treatment. “This discovery is exciting – it means we have another piece of the puzzle to explain the neural mechanism driving alcohol consumption,” said Olivier George, an associate professor at Scripps Research Institute in the US.