A new study suggests that a molecular pathway linked to the brain’s reward system may be a new target for alcohol abuse treatments.
The study, tracking a group of proteins called mTORC1 in mice, was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“By advancing our understanding of the neuroscience and treatment of alcohol problems, these findings open new avenues for research and discovery,” says Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D, NIAAA Acting Director.
mTORC1 can be found in cells throughout a mammal’s body. The proteins send signals that help regulate the size and number of cells and are involved in other cellular functions.
For example, mTORC1 in the central nervous system has been linked to learning and memory. Since dysfunctions in these cellular mechanisms related to learning and memory problems can also contribute to alcohol abuse disorders, researchers wondered if mTORC1, in particular, could be involved in alcohol problems.
In mice that had consumed alcohol, scientists observed an increase in mTORC1 cellular products in the nucleus accumbens—an area in the brain of rodents and humans that is part of the reward system associated with cravings for alcohol and other addictive substances. These results suggest that alcohol triggers action in the mTORC1 pathway.
When the rodents were given rapamycin, an immune-suppressant drug that blocks the mTORC1 pathway, they decreased their excessive alcohol consumption, binge drinking, and alcohol-seeking behavior. Rapamycin is currently given to organ transplant patients to help ensure that the transplanted organs aren’t rejected.
“Our findings show that the mTORC1 pathway is an important contributor to mechanisms that underlie alcohol-seeking behavior,” says Dorit Ron, Ph.D., a professor of neurology at UCSF and a principal investigator at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center.
“They also suggest that novel rapamycin-like compounds might be useful treatments for alcohol use disorders,” she says.
The findings are published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Source: National Institutes of Health