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Scientific discovery could bring a cure for binge drinking and alcoholism
The Telegraph By Laura Donnelly, Health Editor
Scientists have pinpointed a protein in the brain which could be used to suppress the desire to keep drinking alcohol, and could even lead to a cure for alcoholism.
Scientists have discovered a natural protein in the brain that could put the brakes on binge drinking, and bring about a cure for alcoholism.
Binge-drinking teenagers ‘doing lasting harm to their memories’ (Getty)
Bingeing is dangerous as vast quantities of alcohol are drunk in a short space of time.
A study by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found the brain protein can “put the brakes” on binge drinking and even stop some people becoming an alcoholic.
Assistant professor Thomas Kash in the departments of pharmacology and psychology said: “Using a series of genetic and pharmacological approaches we identified how a compound in the brain, Neuropeptide Y (NPY), can suppress this dangerous behaviour.
“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.
“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).
“When we then mimicked the actions of NPY using engineered proteins, we were also able to suppress binge alcohol drinking in mice.
“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.”
Professor of psychology Todd Thiele added: “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.
“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.”
The study was published online by the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Previous research has demonstrated the role that NPY can have in influencing the desire to drink. A study of mice who lacked NPY receptors found they were less likely to consume alcohol than others who had the receptors.
Other studies have identified other proteins in the brain which appear to influence the desire to consume alcohol.
A protein called RGS6 (regulator of G protein signaling 6) was found to control alcohol cravings and the likelihood of suffering damage to the heart, liver, and other organs.
Last year the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence said people drinking half a bottle of wine could be advised to start taking the first ever drug to help reduce alcohol consumption.
Men drinking three pints of beer and women drinking two large glasses of wine per night and who do not cut down within two weeks should be prescribed a new drug, Nice said.
The drug nalmefene, which costs £3 per tablet, is taken when people feel the urge to have a drink and stops them from wanting more than one. It works by blocking opiate receptors, stopping the endorphins otherwise be produced by alcohol, giving a feeling of reward and pleasure.