Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) work on a certain subset of neurons that seem to play a vital role in alcoholism.
In a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, scientists have discovered a way to entirely remove the urge to drink alcohol compulsively in an animal model.
The researchers designed a rat model in which the alcohol-activated neurons express a specific protein. They injected a compound that could inactivate only the alcohol-linked neurons in the amygdala.
The results showed, the neurons were effectively silenced, and the changes were remarkable!
The rats completely stopped compulsively drinking alcohol, and the effect lasted for as long as the rats were monitored.
Because of the astounding response, the team ran another experiment for the second and the third time to check the findings. The results were consistent.
Once the specific amygdala neurons were silenced, the need for alcohol evaporated. Olivier George, the study leader said in a statement,
"it's like they forgot they were dependent."
George explained to Medical News Today:
"[...] with classic pharmacology we usually observe a 20-40 percent decrease in drinking because the individuals are highly dependent (we model heavy alcoholism). Instead, here, the drinking went all the way back down to normal drinking, and without noticeable side effects; very unusual.
And, usually, to have long lasting effects like that, you need daily treatment, not a single one; it shows that we might have found alcoholism's Achilles' heel."
The rats still seek out and drink sugar water, indicating that it wasn't simply the brain's entire reward system that had been short-wired. The rats also appeared to not have physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as shaking.
Researchers also found out an interesting aspect of the study. They noticed there was a difference between casual binge drinking and addictive drinking. Switching the neurons off did not have an impact on nondependent drinking, the brain just switched on a new set of neurons and continued. Only compulsive, addictive alcohol use was prevented.