Alcohol Dependence Reversed in Animal Models by Targeting Key Network of Neurons in Central Nucleus of Amygdala

There may be a way to switch off the urge for compulsive drinking, according to a new study in animal models, which was led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in California. “We can completely reverse alcohol dependence by targeting a network of neurons,” said TSRI Assistant Professor Olivier George, Ph.D., who led the study. The new findings, published in the September 7, 2016 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, build on the results of previous studies showing that frequent alcohol use can activate specific groups of neurons. The new article is titled “Recruitment of a Neuronal Ensemble in the Central Nucleus of the Amygdala Is Required for Alcohol Dependence.” The more a person drinks, the more that person reinforces activation in the neuronal “circuit,” which then drives further alcohol use and addiction. It’s as if the brain carves a special path between alcohol and reward. For the new study, the researchers investigated whether there was a way to influence only the select neurons that form these circuits. In both humans and rats, these neurons make up only about five percent of the neurons in the brain’s central amygdala. TSRI Research Associate Giordano de Guglielmo, Ph.D., who was the study’s first author, spearheaded the experiment in rat models of alcohol dependence, which were designed to express a special protein to distinguish only the neurons activated by alcohol. The rats gave the researchers a potential new window into how these circuits form in human brains, where alcohol-linked neurons are harder to identify without the use of protein labels. The rats were then injected with a compound that could specifically inactivate only alcohol-linked neurons. Dr.
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