One Drink, Two Drinks...
A study led by Jun Wang, assistant professor in the College of Medicine, identified neurons in the brain that influence whether one drink leads to another, which could ultimately lead to a cure for alcoholism.
Using an animal model, Wang’s team found that alcohol consumption alters the structure and function of D1 neurons in a part of the brain known to be important in goal-driven behaviors. Periodic consumption of large amounts of alcohol acts on these neurons, making them much more excitable, which means that they activate with less stimulation.
“These neurons are part of a “go” pathway in the brain,” Wang said. “When D1 neurons are activated, they compel you to perform an action, like reaching for another drink. This then creates a cycle, in which drinking causes easier activation and activation causes more drinking.”
When animal models were given a drug to partially block the D1 neuron activation, they showed a much-reduced desire to drink alcohol. “If we suppress this activity, we’re able to suppress alcohol consumption,” Wang said. “Researchers may be able to use these findings to develop a specific treatment targeting these neurons.”