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New study reveals brain cell mechanism of alcohol dependence
Date:5/28/2008

A study released today reveals a cellular mechanism involved in alcohol dependence. The study, in the May 28 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, shows that gabapentin, a drug used to treat chronic pain and epilepsy, reduces alcohol intake in alcohol-dependent rats by normalizing chemical communication between neurons, which is altered by chronic alcohol abuse.

The central amygdala, a part of the brain involved in emotions such as stress and fear, is important in regulating alcohol consumption. Most central amygdala neurons communicate via a chemical signal known as GABA, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Alcohol dependence has been associated with the strengthening of inhibitory synapses in this brain region.

Gabapentin (known commercially as Neurontin) is structurally similar to GABA and increases GABA neurotransmission. In alcoholics, gabapentin has been shown to effectively treat alcohol withdrawal and reduce alcohol consumption and cravings following detoxification. However, how gabapentin acts in the brain to combat alcohol dependence has been unclear.

The studys authors, led by Marisa Roberto, PhD, at the The Scripps Research Institute, made rats dependent on alcohol by chronically exposing them to ethanol in an aerosol or in their food. They then tested how much alcohol the rats voluntarily drank and examined neural signaling in the central amygdala.

The study authors found that gabapentin reduced alcohol intake in rats chronically exposed to alcohol, but not in rats that were chronically unexposed. Gabapentin reduced alcohol intake in alcohol-dependent rats whether it was given systemically or infused directly into the central amygdala, supporting the importance of the central amygdala in alcohol dependence.

What I find to be important about this paper is that gabapentins effect on alcohol consumption is only seen in alcohol-dependent rats, said Julie Blendy, PhD, at the University of Pennsylvania,
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Contact: Todd Bentsen
tbentsen@sfn.org
202-962-4086
Society for Neuroscience
Source:Eurekalert

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