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Could primates and mice hold the key to treating alcoholism? These researchers think so.



BEAVERTON, Ore. (CIRCA via KATU) — Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University's Oregon National Primate Research Center have identified a gene in monkeys and mice that may affect how much someone wants to drink alcohol, or not drink at all.

The research could lead to new ways to treat a disease that afflicts 15 million Americans.

Despite its devastating effect on people, families and communities, there are not many effective treatments for alcoholism.

"Currently, there are only three FDA-approved treatments, and these treatments are not effective for everybody who suffers from alcohol-use disorder, and so there’s a need,” said Rita Cervera-Juanes, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the divisions of Neuroscience and Genetics at the center and the senior author of the study, recently published online in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

With funding from the National Institutes of Health, researchers at the primate center modified the levels of protein in a single gene previously associated with depression.

“Our genome is able to communicate with environmental stressors or things that are foreign to our bodies, so we can respond to diet, it can respond to drug abuse, like alcohol,” Cervera-Juanes said. “That’s how we identified this particular gene as it was responding to heavy amounts of alcohol consumption.”

First recognized in primates, scientists found that when they increased the levels of the genes encoded in mice, they drank 50 percent less alcohol, but drank the same amount of liquid.

“With heavy amounts of alcohol, the gene has low levels,” she said. “So what we did is increase the activity of this gene and that was able to reduce significantly the amount of alcohol consumption in the animal model.

“In a separate study, if we start giving the drug from the very beginning, it prevents consumption. So it has a dual role.”

Now, researchers are looking at the brains of alcoholics who've died to see if the same mechanism works in humans.

The early results are promising.

“We are finding matches between our animal model and humans, which is the purpose of this comparison,” Cervera-Juanes said.

In addition to pointing the way for a new drug to treat alcoholism, a side benefit may be that it works as a treatment for mood disorders, researchers said.


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