Scientists have located the exact regions of the brain they believe triggers alcoholism. Specifically, scientists claim to have discovered the exact cells in the brain that cause alcohol cravings. These revelations may help scientist develop a cure for alcoholism in the near future. This is certainly positive news for those seeking alcohol addiction treatment.
These findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Research was led by Jun Wang at the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
Key findings of the study
The study reveals alcohol consumption affects medium spiny neurons located in the dorsomedial striatum of the brain. The dorsomedial striatum directs goal-driven behaviours.
Spiny neurons have a tree-like structure. Each one has either a D1 or D2 dopamine receptor attached. D1 receptors tell you to 'go'. D2 receptors tell you to 'stop'.
The study reveals that alcohol consumption alters the structure of D1 receptors, making them wider and more developed. Since D1 receptors tell you to ‘go’, their development may encourage you to drink more alcohol.
Wang said: “If these neurons are excited, you will want to drink alcohol. i.e., you’ll have a craving. When D1 receptors are active, you'll want to drink a second, third and fourth drink.
“If we suppress this activity, we’re able to suppress alcohol consumption. This is the major finding. Perhaps in the future, researchers can use these findings to develop a specific treatment targeting these neurons,” Wang concluded.
How the study was carried out
The study in question was conducted on animals, not humans. Animals exposed to alcohol developed more mature D1 receptors than the placebo group. The D1 receptors of animals exposed to alcohol became fatter, often taking on a mushroom-shape.
Scientists believe fatter D1 receptors improve their ability to store memories.
Wang said: "When you drink alcohol, long-term memory is enhanced, in a way. But this memory process is not useful -- in fact, it underlies addiction since it affects the 'go' neurons."
Animals with alcohol enhanced D1 receptors demonstrated a propensity to drink an excessive amount of alcohol when presented with the opportunity to do so.
Wang and his team injected animals exposed to alcohol with a drug designed to block D1 receptors. Amazingly, these animals no longer wished to drink alcohol once the block had been administered.
What are the implications of the study?
Wang said "'Perhaps in the future, researchers can use these findings to develop a specific treatment targeting these neurons. If we suppress this activity, we're able to suppress alcohol consumption. This is the major finding. Perhaps in the future, researchers can use these findings to develop a specific treatment targeting these neurons."
Scientists believe they may be able to determine a person's likelihood of developing alcoholism by inspecting their level of D1 activity.
This could also help cravings for other addictions such as cocaine, heroin and behavioural addictions such as gambling.