“Our focus in this study, like much of our lab’s research, was to examine the role of the brain’s stress system in compulsive alcohol drinking driven by the aversive aspects of alcohol withdrawal,” said Marisa Roberto, Ph.D., senior author of a new study and Scripps Research Associate Professor. “A major goal for this study,” added co-author Nicholas Gilpin, Ph.D., was to determine the neural circuitry that mediates the transition to alcohol dependence.” The researchers showed what role the receptor neuropeptide Y, located in the amygdala, the region of the brain responsible for retaining and processing emotions, plays in alcohol addiction.
“We’ve known for quite some time that neuropeptide Y is an endogenous [naturally occurring] anti-stress agent,” says Markus Heilig, clinical director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “We’ve also known that development of alcohol dependence gives rise to increased sensitivity to stress. This paper elegantly and logically brings these two lines of research together. It supports the idea that strengthening neuropeptide Y transmission in the amygdala would be an attractive treatment for alcoholism. The challenge remains to develop clinically useful medications based on this principle.”
The researchers examined the effects of neuropeptide Y on alcohol dependent and non-alcohol dependent rats. Those with dependency were permitted to access ethanol and water when they experienced withdrawal symptoms.”Normally, the transition to alcohol dependence is accompanied by gradually escalating levels of alcohol consumption during daily withdrawals,” Gilpin explained. “The aim of this protocol was to examine whether neuropeptide Y infusions during daily withdrawals would block this escalation of alcohol drinking.” The researchers discovered that the rats stopped or decreased their consumption of alcohol when they received infusions of neuropeptide Y, which successfully blocks the release of GABA transmission caused by ethanol intake. The researchers believe that the successful suppression of alcohol intake with neuropeptide Y could lead to intervention and treatment options in the clinical arena.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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