Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have revealed that a specific stress hormone, the corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), is key to the development and maintenance of alcohol dependence in animal models.
Chemically blocking the stress factor also blocked the signs and symptoms of addiction, the researchers found.
The study, which suggests a potentially promising area for future drug development, will be published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
"I'm excited about this study," said Associate Professor Marisa Roberto, who led the research. "It represents an important step in understanding how the brain changes when it moves from a normal to an alcohol-dependent state."
The new study not only confirms the central role of CRF in alcohol addiction using a variety of different methods, but also shows that in rats the hormone can be blocked on a long-term basis to alleviate the symptoms of alcohol dependence.
CRF is a natural substance involved in the body's stress response. Originally found only in the area of the brain known as the hypothalamus, it has now been localized in other brain regions, including the pituitary, where it stimulates the secretion of corticotropin and other biologically active substances, and the amygdala, an area that has been implicated in the elevated anxiety, withdrawal, and excessive drinking associated with alcohol dependence.