According to World Health Organization (WHO), excessive alcohol consumption causes the death of 3 million people annually. However, in a study recently published in the journal Nature Medicine, a team of neuroscientists from USA revealed a new type of gene therapy that directly attacks the underlying brain circuits associated with sustained excessive alcohol consumption; which, if investigations advance, it is estimated that the number of deaths would decrease worldwide.
The new treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) It has been tested on monkeys. The researchers assured that it has given impressive results. In the research, the team of scientists explained how alcohol consumption in non-addicts causes dopamine releasecreating a feeling of pleasure, but Chronic alcohol consumption causes the brain to adapt and stop releasing so much dopamine.
“When people are addicted to alcohol, they don’t actually feel more pleasure when drinking,” the company said in a news release. Dr. Kathleen Grant, co-lead author of the study and added: “They drink more because they feel the need to maintain a state of intoxication.” In that sense, a protein called glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) It is key to maintaining the correct functioning of the neurons in this reward circuit.
But experts have found that GDNF levels are reduced in people with AUD during periods of alcohol withdrawal, especially in a region of the brain called ventral tegmental area (VTA). Therefore, the researchers decided to test whether using a therapy that delivered more GDNF to the VTA could help boost this crucial dopaminergic signaling and thus prevent patients from relapse.
For the research, American scientists used eight rhesus macaque monkeys, which were exposed to increasing concentrations of alcohol during four ‘induction’ periods over 30 days. The monkeys then had free access to alcohol and water for 21 hours a day for six months, during which they developed binge drinking behaviors. This was followed by a 12-week withdrawal phase, followed by GDNF treatment four weeks later in half of the subjects.
The gene therapy was administered using a copy of the human GDNF gene injected directly into the primate’s VTA, the researchers revealed. “Alcohol consumption was reduced to almost zero. For months, these animals preferred to drink water and simply avoided drinking alcohol altogether. They decreased their alcohol consumption to the point where it was so low that we didn’t record the blood alcohol level,” Grant said. It is estimated that with this result it will be possible to expand medical studies in humans.