A team at The Scripps Research Institute has found decisive evidence that a specific neurotransmitter system-the endocannabinoid system-is active in a brain region known to play a key role in the processing of memory, emotional reactions, and addiction formation.
Their study also shows that this system can dampen the effects of alcohol, suggesting an avenue for the development of drugs to combat alcohol addiction.
"This study will change a lot in the field. I'm confident it will have a big impact," said Scripps Research Associate Professor Marisa Roberto, who was first author of the paper.
Paul Schweitzer, associate professor of the neurobiology of addiction at Scripps Research and corresponding author of the paper, said: "This is very new. It is the first time a study has shown a direct cellular interaction between endocannabinoids and alcohol in the brain."
The new research overturns the conclusions of a paper published by a European group in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2001. This paper claimed that endocannabinoid receptors, in particular the most common type called CB1, did not exist in the brain region called the central amygdala.
Schweitzer said: "Yet CB1 receptors are very abundant. They are almost everywhere in the brain and there are lots of them. The endocannabinoid system acts on appetite, mood, memory-and addiction. Addiction is why we started to study it in the central amygdala."
The research was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology on May 12.