Scientists discover neurons that influence alcoholism

3 Sep 2015

A team of scientists in Texas claims to have pinpointed the exact neurons that influence whether or not we reach for another drink, potentially paving the way for a cure for alcoholism.

The new study looked closely at different neurons, highlighting the specific areas that react to the intake of alcohol.

By narrowing in on D1 receptors, the researchers from Texas A&M Health Science Centre College of Medicine said they hope this will help develop a response to alcoholism.

“Alcoholism is a very common disease,” said Jun Wang, lead author on the paper, “but the mechanism is not understood very well.”

Wang and his team determined that alcohol changes the physical structure of medium spiny neurons, which are the main type of cells in the stratum.

Adorned with D1 and D2 dopamine receptors, the scientists found that only one of the strands reacted to alcohol.

Considering D1 receptors encourage the brain, and D2 discourages, the fact the former responds to alcohol means that they can be targeted for future study.

The more alcohol is consumed, the less is needed in future to encourage a reaction from D1 receptors.

“If these neurons are excited, you will want to drink alcohol,” Wang said. “You’ll have a craving.

“We’re now able to study the brain at the neuron-specific and even spine-specific level.

“My ultimate goal is to understand how the addicted brain works,” Wang said, “and once we do, one day, we’ll be able to suppress the craving for another round of drinks and, ultimately, stop the cycle of alcoholism.”

The paper has been published in Journal of Neuroscience.

Main image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic