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Possible Cure to Alcohol Addiction is in the Brain After All

Jul 08, 2016 06:10 AM EDT

Researchers have discovered that certain neurons in the brain may influence alcohol-drinking behavior.

According to researchers from Texas A&M College of Medicine, the D2 neurons, which are neurons in the brain that are responsible for telling people to stop, wait or do nothing, can help prevent addictive behaviors when activated.

In an earlier study, the researchers discovered that alcohol consumption can alter the physical structure and functions of the medium spiny neurons in the dorsomedial striatum. They found that activation of the D1 neuron determines whether one drink will lead to two.

But now, they have discovered that while the D1 neurons are part of the "go" pathway of the brain, the D2 neurons are in the "no go" pathway. This means that when activated, the D2 neurons discourage action.

"At least from the addiction point of view, D2 neurons are good,"Dr. Jun Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, said in a report by Science World Report.

"When they are activated, they inhibit drinking behavior, and therefore activating them is important for preventing problem drinking behavior," Wang added.

In the study, the researchers used laboratory mice and found that repeated cycles of alcohol consumption followed by abstinence changed the strength of these neuronal connections, making D2 signals less powerful. This makes the individual seek more alcohol.

"Think of the binge drinking behavior of so many young adults," Wang said in a report by Medical Xpress.

"Essentially they are probably doing the same thing that we've shown leads to inhibition of these so-called 'good' neurons and contributes to greater alcohol consumption."

The researchers found that by manipulating the activity of the neurons, they were able to alter the alcohol-drinking behavior of the mice that had been trained to seek alcohol. By activating D2 neurons, they were able to decrease alcohol consumption.

Moreover, they found that the more D2 neurons were activated, the greater the effect.

According to Wang, the research team is still a long way from testing the procedure in humans. The use of drugs or electrical stimulation to activate D2 neurons may be able to treat alcoholism in the future.

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