Mouse Study Shows Alcohol Alters Molecular Path Like Rapid Antidepressants

New research suggests having a few drinks when you are down may indeed help your mood.

In the mouse study, investigators found that alcohol produces the same neural and molecular changes as drugs that have proven to be rapidly effective antidepressants.

Wake Forest investigators say the effects are explained by biochemistry.

“Because of the high comorbidity between major depressive disorder and alcoholism there is the widely recognized self-medication hypothesis, suggesting that depressed individuals may turn to drinking as a means to treat their depression,” said the study’s principal investigator, Kimberly Raab-Graham, Ph.D.

“We now have biochemical and behavioral data to support that hypothesis.” This, however, does not at all suggest that alcohol can be regarded as an effective treatment for depression.

“There’s definitely a danger in self-medicating with alcohol,” Raab-Graham said. “There’s a very fine line between it being helpful and harmful, and at some point during repeated use self-medication turns into addiction.”

In their study, Raab-Graham and her colleagues found that a single dose of an intoxicating level of alcohol worked in conjunction with the autism-related protein FMRP to transform an acid called GABA from an inhibitor to a stimulator of neural activity. This amount of alcohol has been shown to block NMDA receptors (proteins associated with learning and memory).

Investigators discovered that these biochemical changes resulted in non-depressive behavior of the mice lasting at least 24 hours.

This study demonstrated that alcohol followed the same biochemical pathway as rapid antidepressants in the animals, while producing behavioral effects comparable to those observed in people.

In recent years, single doses of rapid antidepressants such as ketamine have proven capable of relieving depressive symptoms within hours and lasting for up to two weeks, even in individuals who are resistant to traditional antidepressants.

“Additional research is needed in this area, but our findings do provide a biological basis for the natural human instinct to self-medicate,” Raab-Graham said.

“They also define a molecular mechanism that may be a critical contributor to the comorbidity that occurs with alcohol use disorder and major depressive disorder.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications. The research was supported by an National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism pilot grant along with additional grants from the National Science Foundation and other awards.

Source: Wake Forest University