Alcohol consumption alters the structure and function of neurons in the dorsomedial striatum, a part of the brain known to be important in goal-driven behaviors, revealed a new study by the Texas AandM Health Science Center College of Medicine. These findings could be an important step towards creation of a drug to combat alcoholism.
Lead author Jun Wang said, "Alcoholism is a very common disease, but the mechanism is not understood very well." Using an animal model, the research team determined that alcohol actually changes the physical structure of medium spiny neurons, the main type of cell in the striatum. Although it is well known that the neurotransmitter dopamine is involved in addiction, this research goes further, showing that the dopamine D1 receptor also plays an important role in addiction.
The research team found that periodic consumption of large amounts of alcohol acts on D1 neurons, making them much more excitable, which means that they activate with less stimulation. Wang added, "Our ultimate goal is to understand how the addicted brain works and once we do, one day, we'll be able to suppress the craving for another round of drinks and ultimately, stop the cycle of alcoholism."
The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.