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Molecular Pathway in Brain Could Contribute to Alcohol Use Disorders

Posted in Alcohol Abuse

New research funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, found that a molecular pathway in the brain’s reward system seems to contribute to alcohol abuse. This pathway could be a target for new addiction medications and treatments.

NIAAA Acting Director Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D. said that advancing our understanding of neuroscience and the treatment of alcohol and other addiction problems helps create new opportunities for research and discovery.

The researchers found that the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1, or mTORC1, is a group of proteins found in cells throughout the body that sends signals to help regulate the size and number of cells. mTORC1 is also involved in other cellular processes, such as learning and memory. Problems in the cellular mechanisms behind learning and memory can contribute to alcohol abuse disorders, which lead the researchers to believe that mTORC1 may be involved in alcohol use disorders.

Researchers led by Dorit Ron, Ph.D., a Gallo Center principal investigator and a professor of neurology at UCSF, conducted a study to measure an increase in mTORC1 cellular products in the nuclear accumbens of mice that were given alcohol. The nucleus accumbens is involved in the reward pathway of the brain, which is activated by use of alcohol and other addictive substances.

They also found that rapamycin, a drug that blocks the mTORC1 pathway, helped the rats decrease their alcohol consumption and alcohol-seeking behavior. The drug is currently used to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs.

Ron said that the study suggests that mTORC1 contributes to mechanisms that cause alcohol-seeking behavior, and that rapamycin-like compounds could help treat people with alcohol use disorders.

Source: National Institutes of Health News, NIH-supported mouse studies suggest treatment target for alcohol problems, November 1, 2010