Study identifies peptide that drives heavy alcohol drinking

New York, Dec 3 (IANS): US researchers have identified a peptide that is involved in heavy alcohol drinking, which can also be targeted for developing therapies to tackle binge drinking.

Alcohol is the most common addictive substance in the world. Alcohol use disorder, a highly prevalent, chronic, relapsing disorder, affects more than 14 million people in the US alone, in addition to being severely under-treated, with only three modestly effective pharmacological therapies available.

Chronic exposure to alcohol has been shown to produce profound neuroadaptations in specific brain regions, including the recruitment of key stress neurotransmitters, ultimately causing changes in the body that sustain excessive drinking.

The area of the brain known as the “bed nucleus of the stria terminalis” (BNST) is critically involved in the behavioural response to stress as well as in chronic, pathological alcohol use.

Researchers from Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine identified that the peptide called pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP) is involved in heavy alcohol drinking.

In addition, they have discovered that this peptide acts in the BNST area.

Using an established experimental model for heavy, intermittent alcohol drinking, the researchers observed that during withdrawal this model showed increased levels of the stress neuropeptide PACAP selectively in the BNST, compared to the control model.

Interestingly, a similar increase was also observed in the levels of another stress neuropeptide closely related to PACAP, the calcitonin gene-related peptide, or CGRP.

Both peptides have been implicated in stress as well as pain sensitivity, but their role in alcohol addiction is less established.

In the paper, appearing online in the journal eNeuro, the researchers then used a virus in a transgenic model to block the neural pathways containing PACAP that specifically arrive at BNST.

"We found that inhibiting PACAP to the BNST dramatically reduced heavy ethanol drinking," said Valentina Sabino, co-director of the School’s Laboratory of Addictive Disorders as well as Professor of pharmacology, physiology & biophysics.

According to the researchers, these results provide evidence that this protein mediates the addictive properties of alcohol.

"We found a key player, PACAP, driving heavy alcohol drinking, which can be targeted for the development of novel pharmacological therapies," added Pietro Cottone, Associate Professor of pharmacology, physiology & biophysics and co-director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders.


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Title: Study identifies peptide that drives heavy alcohol drinking

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