Researchers have identified two genes linked with binge drinking which could pave way for more effective treatments for excessive alcohol drinking.
University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers found that manipulating two receptors in the brain, GABA receptors and toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), "caused profound reduction" of binge drinking for two weeks in rodents that had been bred and trained to drink excessively.
The new study found that treatments that manipulate both the GABA receptor and toll-like receptor 4 have the potential to reduce anxiety and control cravings, with little to no risk for addiction, according to lead investigator Harry June, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
June has long been interested in the role GABA receptors play in alcoholic drinking. This is the first scientific study to document GABA receptors' key involvement in binge drinking specifically, though scientists already believed that the receptors had a role in excessive drinking in general.
One of the study's most novel findings concerns TLR4's important role in binge drinking. Science has traditionally considered TLR4 to be an innate immunity receptor involved with neuroinflammation in the brain. Scientists associated TLR4 with microglia, cells that support inflammatory responses in the brain.
To establish the connection between the GABA receptors, TLR4 and alcohol, the scientists manipulated this pathway in the binge drinking rodents. Senior author Laure Aurelian, professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics and microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, used a herpes viral vector - a deactivated herpes virus - to deliver a gene-modifying agent directly to the neurons in the brain, to target TLR4 and GABA receptors.
The scientists found that when they artificially stimulated the GABA receptors and TLR4 in order to simulate the good feelings binge drinkers feel when drinking alcohol, the rats lost interest in alcohol for two weeks after the procedure.
"These compounds would act like a substitute for alcohol, much like methadone acts as a substitute for heroin. They would help alcoholics stop drinking, giving them relief from their cravings and from the anxiety that they try to alleviate with drinking." said June.
The study has been published online in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.