New research suggests alcohol dependency may hinge on a specific stress hormone, the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF).
A team of scientists from The Scripps Research Institute discovered the hormone is key to the development and maintenance of alcohol dependence in animal models.
Chemically blocking the stress factor also blocked the signs and symptoms of addiction, suggesting a potentially promising area for future drug development.
The article, the culmination of more than six years of research, will appear in an upcoming print edition of the journal Biological Psychiatry.
“I’m excited about this study,” said Associate Professor Marisa Roberto, who led the research.
“It represents an important step in understanding how the brain changes when it moves from a normal to an alcohol-dependent state.”
The new study not only confirms the central role of CRF in alcohol addiction using a variety of different methods, but also shows that in rats the hormone can be blocked on a long-term basis to alleviate the symptoms of alcohol dependence.
Previous research had implicated CRF in alcohol dependence, but had shown the effectiveness of blocking CRF only in acute single doses of an antagonist (a substance that interferes with the physiological action of another).
The current study used three different types of CRF antagonists, all of which showed an anti-alcohol effect via the CRF system. In addition, the chronic administration of the antagonist for 23 days blocked the increased drinking associated with alcohol dependence.
“Research to understand alcoholism is important for society,” said Roberto, a 2010 recipient of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
“Our study explored what we call in the field ‘the dark side’ of alcohol addiction. That’s the compulsion to drink, not because it is pleasurable – which has been the focus of much previous research – but because it relieves the anxiety generated by abstinence and the stressful effects of withdrawal.”
Source: Scripps Research Institute