New research conducted at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon, has identified a gene that could provide a new target for developing medication to prevent and treat alcoholism. Scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU discovered a gene that had lower expression in the brains of nonhuman primates that voluntarily consumed heavy amounts of alcohol compared with those that drank less. Furthermore, the research team unraveled a link between alcohol and how it modulates the levels of activity of this particular gene. Researchers discovered that when they increased the levels of the gene-encoded protein in mice, they reduced alcohol consumption by almost 50 percent without affecting the total amount of fluid consumed or their overall well-being. The study was published online on January 5, 2019 in Neuropsychopharmacology. The article is titled “Modulation of Gpr39, a G-Protein Coupled Receptor Associated with Alcohol Use in Non-Human Primates, Curbs Ethanol Intake in Mice.” The study modified the levels of the protein encoded by a single gene - GPR39 - which is a zinc-binding receptor previously associated with depression. The prevalence rates of co-occurring mood and alcohol use disorders are high, with individuals with alcohol use disorder being 3.7 times more likely to have major depression than those who do not abuse alcohol. Using a commercially available substance that mimics the activity of the GPR39 protein (image), the researchers found that targeting this gene dramatically reduced alcohol consumption in mice.
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