OHSU

OHSU Researchers Discover New Brain Region Involved in Alcoholism

03/25/03   Portland, Ore.

Region may be new target for anti-alcoholism drugs, therapies

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) have discovered a new region of the brain involved in chronic alcohol consumption. This research may be used to develop new or improved drugs and therapies aimed at combating alcoholism. The finding also presents a more complete picture of the brain's important role in alcohol abuse.

The research, which is printed in the March 25 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience, centers on a peptide called urocortin. The peptide is connected to alcohol craving. Scientists at OHSU and collaborators at Indiana University tracked urocortin to a group of brain cells located in the midbrain. The group of cells is called the Edinger-Westphal (EW) nucleus.

"This research is the first to tie this region of the brain to alcohol abuse," said Andrey Ryabinin, Ph.D., an assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine and senior author of the paper. "It is also the first time urocortin levels have been tied to alcohol consumption."

To conduct this research, Ryabinin and his colleagues studied mice bred to crave alcohol compared with normal mice that will drink alcohol served with a sugar solution. Researchers found that levels of urocortin in the brain corresponded with each animal's desire to drink alcohol. Animals with high urocortin levels consumed large quantities of alcohol. Conversely, animals with low urocortin levels craved less alcohol. The scientists also tracked communications between cells containing urocortin and a region of the forebrain involved in regulating alcohol consumption and brain reward mechanisms.

"While there is much more research to be done, we think that either this small group of neurons or the peptide urocortin may be good targets for drugs or therapies for treating those with alcohol addiction in the future," explained Ryabinin. "For instance, it is worth testing whether reducing urocortin levels may reduce alcohol craving."

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a component of the National Institutes of Health, funded this research.

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