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Scientists have found a way to ‘reverse’ alcoholism in rats

Scientists have discovered a way to “reverse” alcoholism in rats.
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Scientists have discovered a way to “reverse” alcoholism in rats.

By shooting a laser beam at a portion of the alcohol-addicted rats’ brains, scientists with the Scripps Research were able to “temporarily disable a specific neuronal population”, which, according to them, is linked to alcoholism, according to a press release from the research institution. The findings are published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

The new study is partly inspired by the past research carried out by scientists of the institution, who find “that the transition from casual drinking to dependent drinking occurs in addition to fundamental changes in the way the brain sends signals.”

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For the new study, Oliver George, an associate professor at Scripps Research and the study’s senior author, together with his collaborators, focused on the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) neurons in the rats.

“The researchers studied these neurons using optogenetics, a technique involving the use of light to control cells in living tissue,” Scripps Research explained in the press release. “Rats used in this study were surgically implanted with optical fibres aimed to shine light on the CRF neurons to inactivate them at the flip of a switch.”

The scientists purposely created for the rats addicted to alcohol, slowly increasing their consumption until they were addicts. When the researchers took away the alcohol, the rats exhibited withdrawal symptoms, and drank more when they were re-introduced into the fabric.

“This discovery is exciting—it means that we have a different piece of the puzzle to explain the neural mechanism driving the consumption of alcohol.”

— Oliver, George

Then, to “reverse” the rats,’ alcoholism, the researchers used lasers to “inactivate the CRF neurons.” The rodents then “immediately back to their pre-dependent alcohol intake,” the researchers said.

“The intense motivation to drink was gone. Inactivation of these neurons also reduced the physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as abnormal gait and shaking,” she added.

When the scientists switched off, the lasers, the rats again alcohol-dependent.

“This discovery is exciting—it means that we have a different piece of the puzzle to explain the neural mechanism driving consumption of alcohol,” George said in a statement.

“In this multidisciplinary study, we were able to characterize, target and editing of a critical subset of neurons that are responsible for excessive drinking.” Giordano de Guglielmo, first author of the study and a scientist at Scripps Research, added.

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While the research is promising, though the researchers called the breakthrough “great” and noted it seems to be “wiring in the brain that runs in a specific, destructive behavior” — it is not yet advanced enough to conduct the human trials. That being said, George remarked, this is the ideal next step.

As Digital Trends reports, the research could lead to a more successful treatment for alcohol addiction in the future, such as gene therapies or even a brain implant to control the addiction.

“This work requires the use of cutting-edge technologies that are not approved to be used with people who have so it could be 15 to 30 years before we see alcohol with the brain implants that help them control their desire,” George told the outlet. “However, this work may stimulate the development of small molecules targeting this population of neurons. By performing high-throughput screening of substances that can inhibit these neurons, we can develop new drugs in a much shorter time frame, possibly 10 to 15 years, if we have the funding to do it.”

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