A naturally-occurring protein in the brain could help suppress binge drinking and even lead to a cure for alcoholism, according to a new study.
“Using a series of genetic and pharmacological approaches we identified how a compound in the brain, Neuropeptide Y (NPY), can suppress this dangerous behaviour,” Thomas L Kash, from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine said.
“Specifically, we found that NPY acted in a part of the brain known as the extended amygdala (or bed nucleus of the stria terminalis) that we know is linked to both stress and reward,” said Kash.
This anti-drinking effect was due to increasing inhibition (the brakes) on a specific population of cells that produce a ‘pro-drinking’ molecule called corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), researchers said.
“When we then mimicked the actions of NPY using engineered proteins, we were also able to suppress binge alcohol drinking in mice,” Kash added.
“Finally, we found that this anti-drinking NPY system is altered by long-term alcohol drinking in multiple species, suggesting that this may be either a marker or treatment for alcohol abuse,” Kash said.
“The identification of where in the brain and how NPY blunts binge drinking, and the observation that the NPY system is compromised during early binge drinking prior to the transition to dependence, are novel and important observations,” said study co-author Todd E Thiele, professor of psychology at UNC.
“What is particularly exciting is that these findings suggest that restoring NPY may not only be useful for treating alcohol use disorders, but may also protect some individuals from becoming alcohol dependent,” Thiele added.
The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.